Easter as challenge more than comfort…

Posted by on Apr 17, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

pussy willow twigs with soft buds on blurred background

Back in 1950 Sir Norman Anderson famously wrote: “Easter is not primarily a comfort but a challenge. Its message is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax.” Anderson goes on to explore the evidence for the resurrection forcefully arguing that unless it is factual, the entire foundation for Christianity is based on a lie.

He writes that the resurrection is either “infinitely more than a beautiful story, or else it is infinitely less. If it is true, then it is the supreme fact of history; and to fail to adjust one’s life to its implications means irreparable loss. But if it is not true, if Christ be not risen, then the whole of Christianity is a fraud, foisted on the world by a company of consummate liars, or, at best, deluded simpletons.”

So do we celebrate a faith foisted on the world by consummate liars or, at best, deluded simpletons, or did Jesus in fact rise from the dead – and does it matter?

Many find the resurrection an enormous comfort. In the face of loss and death, this is easy to understand. As a pastor I have taken my fair share of funeral services and have never looked anything other than ashen at seeing the casket lowered into the earth and sobered as I throw a handful of dirt on it and say “earth to earth, dust to dust”. The sole consolation is that we commit the body to the earth (or to be cremated) “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ”, to cite the 2019 Book of Common Prayer. “In sure and certain hope” – it’s lovely, isn’t it, albeit a little paradoxical… can hope be sure and certain? The resurrection of Jesus suggests “yes”.

Of course some would argue that a bit of self delusion at times of great grief is acceptable. Unable to cope with the sadness of death, we give the story of the resurrection a free pass, not wanting to interrogate it too closely lest the distress this causes is unsettling and destructive.

But here’s the thing. The evidence for the resurrection is pretty persuasive. True, it’s probably an overstatement to say it is “sure and certain” but “highly likely” is a reasonable conclusion. I’ve argued this in my book Why Christianity is Probably True and Norman Anderson’s article also uses solid logic to arrive at a similar conclusion. So we should be comforted by the resurrection.

But comfort alone does not do justice to the magnitude of what took place that first Easter morning. Anderson is right. Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge. It is the challenge to live in the light of the resurrection. It is to catch a glimpse of ultimate reality, that one day Jesus’ prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will be answered in the affirmative. God’s Kingdom will reign and all counterfeits will disappear. The challenge is to live in the light of this ultimate reality now.

Jurgen Moltmann has expressed this insightfully: “That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”

This Easter time, may resurrection hope so fill you that you no longer put up with reality as it is, but contradict it, as you live in the light of God’s promised future.

As always, nice chatting…

Feel free to repost with acknowledgment or to send this to any who might find it helpful.

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