Patriarch Archbishop Craig Bates’ homily on Easter Sunday, 12 April 2020
I admire those all around the world who are broadcasting masses and prayers regularly; and I hope all the clergy around the world realise what a great opportunity we have to evangelise. We can invite our family and friends to watch online and see what convergence worship is all about.
This is the first time in my life I haven’t been to Easter mass in church. My mother loved Easter and got it into my heart; and even when I was away from the church and not walking with God, I went to church at Easter and it spoke to me. As I grew up in the Lord, all of Holy Week became really important. Throughout my ministry, I have encouraged people to participate in the entire Holy Week, because it makes Easter so powerful; it’s a glorious day. The Orthodox proclaim, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.” What a proclamation! When I was young we used to sing an old hymn: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! The strife is over, the battle done, the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!”
As a people, we mark time in a linear way, which we call “chronos” time, from which we have the words chronological and chronology, as the basis for dating things. We mark our own time with the day we were born, which we celebrate every year throughout our lives, and we mark other dates such as weddings, funerals, anniversaries, graduations, and finally our death. When we die, we put on our tomb the dates of our birth and death.
We are tempted to see the life of Jesus in the same way. There is a chronology: people argue about the date when He was born and the day when He was crucified, and when He will return – even though we are advised not to worry about the times and seasons and the date and we won’t be told. But although we live in chronological time, and Jesus fully lived as fully human in that same time, with a beginning and an end, it’s not that way in the heavenly realms. Eternity is marked by infinity: there is no beginning and end as there is with the earth. “In the beginning was the Word”: something started; and the time will come when Jesus will return.
The Easter experience was not understood by the disciples. Perhaps they understood it in light of the Old Testament resurrections, Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, or Jairus’ daughter; but the resurrection of Jesus is not the same. Why were they in the room hiding? Jesus had told them repeatedly that He would rise again on the third day. Why were they shocked when the women told them that they had seen Him alive? Did they think He meant it symbolically, or as they understood the resurrection on the last day, or that He would receive His reward in heaven? What we know is that they didn’t understand it; and in fact they really didn’t understand it until after the day of Pentecost. Even though they had met Him on several occasions after the Resurrection and saw Him ascend into heaven, they didn’t understand what the Resurrection was all about.
The Resurrection is not the end of the story of Jesus, neither is the Ascension, nor will be the Second Coming. What we know about the Resurrection is that it does not mean that everything is now going to be good. We know it isn’t going to be good necessarily. Those who have lived in the truth of the Resurrection or have come to know the risen Lord Jesus have found life sometimes to be rather difficult, sometimes finding difficulties that they didn’t have before they met Him. After receiving the Holy Spirit, Stephen was stoned, James was killed, Peter was arrested and sent to jail and eventually died in Rome, and Christians were persecuted until they had scattered throughout the Middle East; every Apostle was martyred except John. Martyrdom became the way of the Church so much that one of the great saints said the seed of the Church is the blood of the martyrs.
Every age has had its own suffering to deal with. My generation lived in the most violent century in the history of the world: Europe suffered tremendously in the twentieth century, with two World Wars, and the Spanish flu in the early part of the century. There was terrible violence and suffering, but they didn’t turn to God; in fact, churches began to be empty. Not everything became good.
Throughout the ages there has been persecution of Christians, and there is today in the Middle East. The Eastern Churches have suffered terribly; some of have suggested that in some countries the ancient Churches have all but disappeared. There are plagues and famines today. In East Africa there’s a locust plague such as hasn’t been seen in many years, eating the crops, and children are starving. There has always been yellow fever, malaria and cholera. What will happen when this pandemic hits that part of the world with its lack of medical care? There’s suffering throughout many countries with children starving. This pandemic is hitting the poor the worst. How hard it is on our brothers and sisters in the Philippines who are locked down with limited food and medical care; and hardest hit are those who are on the outward islands. There’s terrible hunger and plague in many places.
The world will be the same when this pandemic leaves. After 9/11 we thought there would be great revival in New York and in the world, but there wasn’t. Hurricane Sandy came, and we thought there would be revival in New York and people returning to the church, but they didn’t. Now I hear some believers saying this pandemic will bring revival; I don’t think so – the world will go back to normal.
What about the Resurrection? This pandemic is not the judgment of God. It’s not sent by God: God doesn’t send evil. It’s not punishment for sin; it’s not a sign of the Second Coming. It’s a dark time, a trial, as much as the dark times of the past and the present and other parts of the world. Jesus tells us in this world we will have trials.
Easter Sunday was not the end, but the beginning of a new day, a new creation. All creation because of the Resurrection is being made new; we are being made new creations in Christ. The cross of Christ, the reality of God’s love in the midst of suffering, defeated sin, paid the price for sin, has forgiven our sins, has defeated the devil and has conquered the world. As we repent of our sin and turn to God through Christ, we enter into this new creation, this new life. We can say the old has passed away, the new reality has come, where we are in the world but we are not of it. We’re seated with Him in the heavenly places, and we’re being made and formed into His image. God is restoring humanity as it is meant to be, and we will live that out beyond the grave with Him.
We’re in the midst of a world that’s perishing, but we know we have eternal life. Real suffering is spiritual suffering: not knowing that eternal home with God, facing an eternity without Him. Being made into the image of Christ makes us light in the world in the midst of darkness. The resurrection is a new creation in the world, redeeming the world, drawing the world to the one who reigns on the throne of His Kingdom which is now and will come.
The question is, have we been transformed during this pandemic Lent? Lent is part of His image being formed in us: being more loving, more forgiving, more merciful, more thankful, more generous in our giving beyond the tithe; having been transformed to be a people of prayer, being led by the Spirit and not by the world; a people of servanthood; a people of the worship of God; a people of evangelism, bringing others to Christ. Have we been transformed so that our mission, wherever we are, is to bring that good news to those around us? If we only go back to normal, we’ve maintained the ship through the storm, but we have not been open to the transformative love of God and Jesus. If we go back to normal, we will have survived, but we won’t have hit revival. God wants a revived heart, a dwelling place of Christ Jesus in the world.
The tomb is empty and death is conquered; the gates are open wide to enter into His Kingdom. We have been set free from the fear of death. We can let others know that they can be set free from that same fear, as we embrace Jesus and live in His life, death and resurrection. The strife is over and the battle is won. Alleluia! Happy Easter.