The important thing to remember about the Resurrection of Jesus is that it took place after his death. Jesus was first put to death before God raised him up.
You have to remember the sequence of events. First death, then resurrection. Or to put it another way: no death, no resurrection. The new life Jesus was given by God came only after he had surrendered the life he knew.
Easter, as I'm sure you realize, is not simply about an event in the past. A man walked out of a grave two thousand years ago, this is true. We should have no reason to doubt it, although no one actually saw it. The Gospels nowhere record anyone personally witnessing the Resurrection. What confirms the truth of the Resurrection - and what is really important about it - doesn't lie in the past. The rising of Christ confirms itself over and over again in the present - in your life and mine and in the world we live in today - but only if you remember the sequence of events.
Jesus died on Good Friday in the most horrible of ways. Crucifixion was a terrible form of death. It was an act of cruelty by vengeful people - people who, we must note, felt they were acting in the name of God. And while nothing can justify their hatred towards Jesus, we must also remember that Jesus knew what would happen to him if he continued to heal the sick and forgive the sinners in the face of religious opposition. Jesus could have stopped at any time. He could have settled for a quiet life and conformed to the prevailing attitudes and sentiments.
But Jesus could not really accept the prevailing religious attitudes, especially where they obstructed or contradicted the Reign of God. When the rules were cruel or heartless, lacking in compassion or concerned merely with the preservation of a lifeless tradition, Jesus did not feel bound by them. All through his life he had preached against teachings that imposed a burden on the poor or justified the exclusion of incurables, and he was particularly critical of those religious leaders who never listened to the people and whose primary focus seemed to be on protecting their own position.
Jesus could have settled for a quiet life and simply said nothing, but instead he showed no patience for systems and institutions that cared little for people in need. He was not interested in unity for its own sake, or in tradition for its own sake, or whatever might be meant by 'orthodoxy.' He was interested in the power of God to heal and save, and he brought that power into the lives of people in such dramatic and astonishing ways that the common people received him gladly and the authorities were scandalized.
Jesus knowingly walked the way of the Cross because he would not abandon the reign of God. His crucifixion was the consequence of his own obedience to the Father, and this is why God raised him up again from death. Easter is God's act of restoring to life that power of love which the world would kill. It marks the defeat of the spiritual agents of darkness that seek to stifle and deny the healing and hope that Jesus brought into the world. God will not be tamed. God will not be domesticated or denied by systems of conformity which try to contain and institutionalize God. Easter is the triumph of life-giving truth over traditions that bring only death.
It's important to understand that God was not behind the crucifixion. God was in the Resurrection. God is not a crucifying God, not a God of cruelty and domination. God is an Easter God, a God of new life who brings about miracles of transformation even in the bleakest of circumstances. This means we cannot say that human pain and suffering is brought about by God, although this is often said and even believed by some. It means rather that God has the power to transform human suffering and to bring forth from it something miraculous, something new and beautiful that defies all rational explanation.
God is a God of Resurrection. This is the truth we celebrate as Christians. But the sequence of events is that crucifixion and death happen first.
For resurrection to come, some things must die. This church of ours, for example, is moving through a great time of change. And the paradox is that in order for the Gospel to live, some aspects of the church may have to die. Anglicanism has survived centuries of turmoil - world wars, religious wars, the end of slavery, the emancipation of women - but Anglicanism as we have known it for four hundred years may not survive the movement for dignity and respect that is now being sought for gay and lesbian people today.
There is a great struggle going on in our church between those who see God in the traditions of the past, and those who see God in the new wind of the Spirit challenging our old assumptions about human nature. It is the same struggle Jesus faced when he chose the way of compassion over the way of conformity. And it leads to a kind of death for those of us who have cherished and loved the old church we know and which we have served most of our lives.
But something wonderful is coming out of this turmoil. A new life is emerging from the pain of it, and it shows again the power of God to raise up and renew people who remain faithful and obedient in their decisions and actions. We are finding that unity cannot be built on injustice. Unity must be built on love and kindness even where this is resisted by the self-styled religiously orthodox.
We are finding that the identity of the church cannot be maintained by judgmentalism and condemnation, but by walking the way of Jesus even in the face of hostility. The struggle in our church today is not really about sex, it's about the courage to face new knowledge and new understandings when they challenge what we have long believed. It's about being open to the power of God to transform us from a people simply of tradition to a people of compassion.
Let me offer a word of encouragement to those of who are still seekers of the path, perhaps still wondering about Christianity. To you who may still be looking for your spiritual home, remember this: there is no spiritual growth without spiritual turmoil. There is no breakthrough without effort, there is no Easter without Good Friday. Do not look for a church that is free of conflict, where everything is settled, where no new questions ever arise. Never join a community that clings to certainties and resists new ideas.
A living community is a place of debate and dispute. It's different from a museum. In living spiritual communities, people struggle to find truth. They never rest content with ancient dogmas or doctrines, even though they respect and cherish them. God disturbs and transforms every individual and every spiritual community through the power of the Resurrection. That is God's way. Images of spiritual tranquillity are a myth, a seduction, and a falsehood.
If we look for justice without suffering we are romantics. If we look for renewal without struggle we have missed the sequence of events. God is behind Easter, and its countless examples throughout history, but we have to make some important decisions before we can experience it for ourselves. If you have to make a choice, and you do, choose the path Jesus took. And join us, if you will, on this journey towards the miraculous and the new.
+ Bishop Michael