As the world limps out of the COVID pandemic, the ravages of the pandemic have prised open already existing, deeply embedded injustices. Globally, we are acutely aware of the deep inequalities of class, gender, and race that divide humanity and prevent us from living the abundant life that God calls us into. As we resist the urge to return to what was “normal,” we instead try to re-create a world that is founded on justice. It is in this context of not returning to normal that we are called to think outside the tomb.
This Easter calls us into a fresh start. While the women in the life of Jesus never deserted him the disciples have a different story to tell. In the gospel according to John, the first man to reach the empty tomb in this story does not have his name mentioned, but we can make a fairly good guess is the disciple John; being a younger man he was able to outrun Peter and reach the tomb first. We must remember that this was the same John who along with his brother James asked Jesus whether they would be allowed to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus when he entered into his “glory.” At that time Jesus had asked the both of them whether they would be willing to drink the cup that he was going to drink from and whether they would be willing to be baptized with his baptism. Both had willingly agreed at that time but when, the time of trial had come both disciples had shrunk from the task that they had promised. And what of Peter? His story is even more familiar, not only did he desert Jesus in his time of need but also was the one who openly denied Jesus.
One can’t help but wonder what these two disciples were thinking when they were running to that tomb; no doubt their minds were filled with disbelief, expectation, and excitement. But I also believe that they must have had that dread of having to now confront the person who they let down. It is significant though that in all the recorded meetings that they had with Jesus after his resurrection this is never an issue. In their meetings with the risen Christ the disciples and Peter and John in particular are offered a new beginning, a fresh start.
As a global community we have made bad choices, choices that have ruined our environment and have made the planet unlivable for vulnerable groups and future generations, or as we say in the confession, we do things we ought not to have done and don’t do things we ought to have done. But the beautiful message of Easter—and the message of this Easter in particular—is that in the risen Christ we have been offered a second chance, an opportunity to make a new beginning and a fresh start. Yet the time for making things anew is ticking down, especially in our efforts to reverse climate change.
Making a fresh start requires a complete reorienting of our society. Easter is about the first becoming last and the last becoming first. It is significant in the resurrection story that Mary of Magdalene—a woman—was the first to be a witness to the resurrected Lord. And not only a witness, but also the first apostle as she is sent to go and tell the others. The gospels show us clearly that it is only women who are capable of fulfilling the role and responsibility of discipleship. For it is a woman who was the first to learn of the birth of Jesus, and it was a woman through whom this child was born; it was women who were at the cross of Jesus when all the men had run away, and it was also to a woman that the good news of his resurrection was revealed. The very life of Jesus shows us that the social order has been overthrown: those who were first have come last and those who were last have now been placed first.
And this is the good news of the Easter message to us even today, that those who society has left out—women, the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed—Jesus has placed first. Likewise the religious, political, and socially elite are ignorant of the resurrection of Jesus. The Mathean text tells us that they plot a lie to keep down the truth of the resurrection. Yet truth prevails. Thinking outside of the tomb denies the power of patriarchy, makes nothing of the lies of imperialism, and enables an alternative view of the world.
The message of Easter is that it is the hope for all of humanity. Not only is it the hope that Jesus overturns the social order and that he offers us a chance to make a new beginning but also the hope that even death is not too powerful for us, that even death is not the end. This is not only true in the literal sense that Jesus promises us that those who believe in him will also rise again but also in the metaphorical sense that we have the ability to survive even the most difficult situations and circumstances.
We live in a world where might is right and that righteousness, justice, and peace have no place. Yet it is the power of the resurrection that gives us the hope that even in these times of darkness the truth will prevail. It is the power of the resurrection that offers us the hope that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we shall still prevail. This is true not only of large world events but also in our personal and daily struggles of life. It is this hope which gives us the power to resist. It is a subversive hope because it disagrees with what is going on now and offers us an alternative vision of the future. It is a hope which enables us to think outside the tomb.
Philip Vinod Peacock
Executive for Justice and Witness
on behalf of the Collegial General Secretariat
Image: “Ta Da!” by Joel Schoon-Tanis from the book 40: The Gospels.