On Friday night, Sheridan and I watched the DVD of Skyfall, the latest Bond movie. It starts with a scene in which James Bond is accidentally shot dead by a colleague, and he falls from a railway viaduct into a river. He is a gonner. Then there is a crisis at MI6 in London, and we cut through to Bond having a great time at a tropical beach resort. And the film never once tries to explain how he survived the shooting and the death plunge into the water. Only James Bond could still be living a high octane, dangerous and energetic existence after 50 years, though the film was full of jokes about ageing and not being as fit as he once was.
It was a kind of resurrection, the return to life from certain death. But that wasn’t what Jesus’ resurrection was about.
And I have been following the mini-series “In the Flesh”, which has been showing at 10.00pm on a Sunday night. The last episode is tonight. The story is about zombies, dead people who come back to life and kill and eat the living. But in this twist to the tale, drugs can help manage “partially deceased syndrome” and sufferers are being returned to care in the community. The hero is Kieran, who committed suicide, and has burst out of his grave to return to some kind of life on earth.
It is a kind of resurrection, though one which threatens his family and neighbours. And that isn’t what Jesus’ resurrection is about.
So why are we here today? Why are we here every Sunday? Because something happened that Sunday morning that changed everything.
It was early in the morning, just as dawn was breaking. It feels a bit like that today, when the clocks went forward last night.
For the women, it was all over. They had followed Jesus, supported him from their own resources, listened to him. He had valued them and given them a place that no one else, no man, had ever done. But he had been put to death on the cross, a long, slow, cruel death. And now, the women were going to complete the rites of burial at the tomb where his body had been placed hurriedly on the Friday night. It was the last thing they could do for their friend.
But when they get there, the tomb is empty. This is not what they expected or wanted. They are in a state of consternation – perplexed, terrified, astonished, and not in a good way. Even good news can be upsetting when it doesn’t make sense, when it doesn’t fit in with the way you know the world.
And then – a vision of angels, messengers with news in shining light, brighter than the light of dawn. The darkness is over. They announce: Jesus is not dead, he is risen. And somehow, that is supposed to make some sense of their confusion.
It is some time before the women can put the pieces together. They go and tell the men, but the men don’t want to know. The men do not believe what the women have seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears. But Peter stirs himself and goes to look and can himself bear witness to the empty tomb, and he is full of amazement, even though he doesn’t understand.
And bit by bit, step by step, minute by minute, the story unfolds. And then they start to encounter the Risen Lord Jesus in unexpected ways, but that comes later.
The Risen Jesus is no hero put back together again for another action adventure. This is no zombie returned with ghoulish terror. This is resurrection for real.
Christ is no longer dead, he is not even “partially deceased”. But his rising again is difficult to come to terms with. Even good news requires a massive adjustment. And this is beyond anything in the experience of the women.
Christ’s resurrection is not about reanimating a dead body. Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain, and the young girl in Capernaum, all those whom Jesus raised from the dead would die again, but Jesus’ resurrection was something entirely new. This is the New Creation, no longer subject to death. It makes a new way of living possible for everyone, a new future – not just for one person, Jesus, but for everyone. Jesus is not a zombie, not a partially deceased person, not a resuscitated corpse, but life anew, filled with God’s power, wholly alive.
That is why we come here, every week, because Jesus is risen. Two thousand years later, and everything has changed, because Jesus is risen. It matters for who we are and why we’re here, because Jesus is risen.
It means that death never has the last word; hate, sin, and evil never have the last word. In 007’s world, evil is controlled by violence. In Jesus’ world, violence is never the answer. In Kieran’s world, coming back to life means preying on the living. In Jesus’ world, resurrection means enabling people to live more fully.
And we are here, because that is the life we want. We have been called to the resurrection life. We have chosen the resurrection life. It means that we aim to live by God’s love. We welcome those who are unlikely and unlovely, and come alongside those who are in trouble. We challenge those who oppress the poor and marginalize the weak. We deal with those who hurt us by forgiving them – and that’s not the weak option, but the strong response. Because this is the only viable way of dealing with hate, sin, evil and death. This is the resurrection life that we live here on earth, and we are part of making it happen.
Jesus Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.
And that makes all the difference.