Easter and Spring are closely aligned every year, temporally and in our imaginations. This year Easter is quite late, so all the signs of new life around us are quite advanced. Many of the trees are in leaf – even the veteran oaks, which cautiously have a lie-in, in case of a late frost, are beginning to wake up. The bird-song is intensifying, and the first butterflies are emerging. I saw my first holly blue in the church garden last week.
But if you look on the way home, you will notice that the hawthorn hedge is already in flower, anticipating the month May that gave it its other familiar name – a little hint that, although our world renews itself every year, it is not quite right; and we know what is wrong. The joy and relief of warmer days now comes always with an undercurrent of unease.
Ukraine, fuel poverty, and the increasing need for foodbanks all add to a sense of foreboding. Plus are own struggles with life, often endured privately and largely unspoken, prevent us celebrating Christ’s Resurrection on Easter morning as a once-for-all happy ending.
Poetically, Easter often has been seen as a reversal of the story of the Fall: Humanity restored to the garden of Eden it was once expelled from. But we know that the wilderness is all around us and within us.
Today we heard St Luke’s account of Easter morning, which is rarely read in church because it gets elbowed aside by St John’s version, with its gripping story of the weeping Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Christ in the garden. Mary Magdalene is in Luke’s version too, but she comes to bring spices to his tomb along with other faithful women who have followed Jesus all the way from Galilee. They find the tomb empty and report that to the disbelieving male disciples. Although they don’t quite find it tomb empty. There are angels there.
In Luke there often are angels.
We are so used to hearing all the stories from St Luke at Christmas, and only hearing John’s side of it at Easter, that we miss his full circle of spiritual revelation. Luke’s gospel is only part one of his history of the birth of Christianity; the Book of Acts is part two, and all the way through both he emphasises how God progressively reveals himself to the world in Christ. From obscure child in Bethlehem, announced by angels to shepherds, to universally present Saviour.
As St Peter, in this morning’s passage from the Book of Acts puts it, after the conversion of the centurion, Cornelius. In my translation:
‘In truth , I see that God is not biased when it comes to people. Rather, in every people, whoever reveres him and performs righteous acts is accepted by him.’
All the Gospel writers knew that the world did not revert to a paradise on Easter morning, just as we know that winter always returns. Think of all those warnings of persecution for the first disciples as they try to spread their misunderstood good news to a world.
But there had been a radical change – a more subtle one. The one who taught and healed, and was innocent and yet had been crucified, had been raised by God. New life from a place of seeming death and defeat; new hope that could be met with in prayer and other people.
One of the comforts and inspirations that Easter brings to a troubled world is that however oppressed and crushed people might be, they too can rise.
The writer and poet Maya Angelou was a devout Christian, and in the face of racial and sexual violence she grounded her hope in the Easter story. Christ’s suffering and victory is hers too.
‘You may write me down in history
With your bitter twisted lies,
You may trod me in the dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into the daybreak that’s wondrously clear