Bishop Skelton's "Topic" Easter Message
April 13, 2017
In either the March or April issues of Topic, (the publication of the Diocese of New Westminster published 10 months a year and available as a section of the national publication, The Anglican Journal) Bishop Skelton writes an Easter message for Topic readers. In order to meet publication deadlines this message is written many weeks before Easter, however for those who don’t read Topic or access it online, here is Bishop Skelton’s 2017 "Topic" Easter message. Editor
“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’” Matthew 28: 1-10
It’s the climactic moment near the end of the film. The unlikely leader of the uprising against the Empire has been captured, roughed up and locked away in prison. Guards have been posted all around to insure that the leader’s compatriots will not be able to break him out of prison.
In another location the captured leader’s compatriots huddle, pooling their know-how and mustering their courage as they plan how to get their leader out of the prison where he’s being held.
Then in one fast-paced scene after another, the loyal little band of compatriots, breaks into the prison, overwhelms the clueless guards and recaptures their beleaguered but grateful leader. Hearing about this victory, others under the thumb of the Empire begin to rally, and the uprising, so recently thought to be lost, is reignited.
I’ve seen this film or some version of it many times. Sometimes it takes place in a foreign country in today’s world. Other times it takes place in the future in some far corner of the universe.
But no matter where or when the story happens, it has the same effect on me. As the ending credits scroll down the screen, I feel reassured, because I have just witnessed a story that I want to believe is true containing incidents that I want to believe are real: uprisings that actually succeed against the Empires of this world and of our lives, love and loyalty between people that allow them to prevail against impossible odds.
But as reassuring as these stories are, and as much as I want to believe what they depict, these are not the story of Easter.
Just like the stories in the film, our Easter story is the story of an unlikely leader who is captured by the Empire. Just like the stories in the film, the leader in our Easter story has a band of followers who love him.
But our Easter story is not the story of a band of loyal followers who save their leader and reignite a movement that throws off the yoke of the Empire.
Instead, our Easter story shows us a Jesus deserted by his friends and executed by the Empire before it can proclaim anything about new life. Our Easter story seals us in a tomb before it can give us any good news.
And especially in the Book of Matthew, we are made to feel not just the chill of the tomb but also the despair and finality of a sealed tomb before we can know anything about life on the other side of that tomb. We are made to despair at the triumph of the Empire not just through the crucifixion, itself, but through the armed guards placed outside the tomb after the crucifixion.
Only after we see and feel these dark and despairing things, can we, like the women who sit outside the tomb, receive the other part of the Easter story.
For the story of Easter is not about our efforts at all — about our ability to free ourselves or anyone else from bondage. It is also not about our love and loyalty for each other prevailing against impossible odds. The story of Easter is about what happens after all our efforts fail and after all our confidence in ourselves has drained away, leaving us paralyzed in the present and for the future.
The story of Easter is about this: God’s loyalty and love will never fail. God’s liberating power, as strong as an earthquake, continues to break open every sealed tomb, to lay low every guard posted to keep the lid on, and to vanquish every Empire that would hold us, or others in thrall.
This and no other is the story that has become ours in baptism. This and no other is the story that enables us to get to our feet and to meet the future. For after the shaking of the ground, the breaking open of the sealed tomb and the laying low of the guards, we, like the women who wait outside the tomb, are sent running into a future that God unravels before us. We are sent moving forward in a direction before we have anything sorted out, even before our wonder and terror have evaporated.
And so, people of God in the diocese of New Westminster take heart, for the defining story of our lives is not to be found in the news of this country’s or another country’s politics. The defining story of our lives is not to be found in stories of how clever or capable we are or will need to be in meeting the challenges of the day.
The defining story of our lives is the story of Easter, a story that proclaims that somewhere, somehow, God is breaking down every wall and is breaking open every prison so that we may be one and so that we may be free.
Alleluia, Christ is risen, and with his rising, God catches us up once and for all time in God’s own story, a story in which “God does not abolish the fact of evil but transforms it. God does not stop the crucifixion, but rises from the dead.”