Easter Monday 2017

The Three Women at the Tomb by Benozzo Gozzoli (d. 1497)
The Three Women at the Tomb by Benozzo Gozzoli (d. 1497)

I think one could make a case for calling Easter Monday ‘Spin Monday’. The gospel of the day (Matthew 28.8-15) ends with a classic damage limitation exercise being conducted by the authorities. The spin put on the empty tomb is like spin in every age: just enough of the truth (an empty tomb) to leave people wondering whether the interpretation offered is correct or not. A comparison may make this easier to understand. This morning there are varying interpretations of Turkey’s referendum result. Western media are hailing the 51.4% ‘yes’ v. 48.59% ‘no’ of the votes counted as ‘a narrw margin’ — conveniently forgetting that the U.K.’s E.U. referendum result, 51.9% ‘leave’ v. 48.1% ‘remain,’ was apparently a ‘decisive vote in favour of Brexit’. Oh, the irony! But spin is like that. It is seductive, and its manipulation of truth unsettling, but it doesn’t affect substance. The facts remain the facts, whatever interpretation we choose to put upon them; and for us this morning the fact is, an empty tomb and the experience of the women related to us by the evangelist.

The prominent part played by women in the resurrection narratives of the Easter Octave is something to ponder. I’d say they come out of the story remarkably well: they are constant, concerned with practicalities rather than status (who will raise the stone for us? where have they put the body?), uncomplicated in their love, and obedient to the command given them to ‘go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’ But there is something more. As today’s passage says, they were ‘filled with awe and great joy’. Awe isn’t something we pay much attention to these days. Joy, yes; we quite like being joyful. But we rarely talk about being awed, and even the ‘awesome!’ of popular speech is so trivialised as to be meaningless. Awe is a strange mixture of wonder, terror, dread, and reverence. To feel awe, we have to forget ourselves — forget about our status, our safety or anything else, and simply experience the truth of what is before us. It is the perfect antidote to spin. The women come away from the tomb believing, and meet Jesus on the way; the guards return to the city worried about their own fate and end up colluding in a cover-up. I think the women got it right, don’t you?

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Easter Monday and the Problem of What to Believe

Easter Monday dawns grey and windy in Britain, with Storm Katie casting a typical gloom over the Bank Holiday. But for those of us celebrating Easter, with a whole octave in which to celebrate as on Sunday itself, the weather chimes with our mood. Yesterday came the report of the slaughter in Lahore which the perpetrators, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, claim was aimed at the Christian minority. The bomb was set off by a fairground, with the result that many children were among those killed or injured. Then, early this morning, came an as yet unconfirmed Austrian media report that Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian from Kerala who had been working in Yemen, had been crucified by IS on Good Friday. Death everywhere, it seems, at the very moment when we are celebrating life. What are we to believe?

Today’s gospel, Matthew 28.8–15, addresses a very similar problem. The women come away from the tomb, ‘filled with awe and great joy’. Jesus confirms their faith and commands them to tell the other disciples, but while they are hurrying away to do so, a plot is being concocted by the chief priests and soldiers to contain the situation. It is a damage limitation exercise of a kind which has become depressingly familiar. The truth is manipulated in such a way that it is emptied of meaning. We are left with the first century equivalent of ‘spin’ — and there are still many who subscribe to it.

What we have to remember, however, is that no amount of ‘spin’ can actually change substance. What is true remains true, no matter how many glosses or interpretations are put upon it. Again this morning there are those advocating ‘an eye for an eye’ rather than Jesus’ own ‘love your enemies; do good to them that hate you.’ What are we to believe? Where do we stand?

Ultimately, each will have to decide for him/herself. What we do matters. I hope you will forgive me if I say that I think the women come out of the accounts of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection remarkably well. There is no silly business with swords, no prevarication (Peter), no running away (the other disciples). They stay by the cross, risk trying to anoint the body of the dead Jesus, believe the Resurrection and announce it to the apostles. This morning, therefore, let us ask the prayers of the holy women of the gospel to help us choose how we shall respond to the evil menace of IS and its counterparts. They were filled with awe and great joy, says St Matthew. I have a hunch that awe and great joy provide an answer: they achieve more than hatred and contempt because they allow Christ to Easter in us.

Important Update 29 March 2016
The Salesians have issued an official statement regarding the rumours circulating about Fr Tom, all of which seem to stem from the Austrian media report referenced above. Please see http://bit.ly/1WVmle6

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