For those of us brought up in the Anglican way, on Easter morning if someone says to you “Christ is risen”, you reply automatically “he is risen indeed”. It is the equivalent of good morning, how are you; and we keep saying it for the 50 days of the Easter season.
What do we mean when we say Christ is risen? What kind of event are we describing and what kind of truth is to be found in this claim?
Is Truth Dead? is the cover of TIME magazine from April 3 which sums up the current political conversation in the United States. Anna Mansfield, writing in the Washington Post says “Our current concept of truth is largely a product of the Enlightenment, when humans codified a way to state a question, pose a hypothesis and collect observations that either supported or changed their understanding of the ‘truth’.”
Mansfield goes on to say that Donald Trump and other leaders like him are operating in a different kind of a world based on emotional truth. The fact checkers can list his errors all day and people will still “believe” him. “Facts don’t matter if the emotional impact is real.”
So what about our Easter story. What kind of truth is it? Is it fake news?
This Easter in church we read the version of the Easter story from Matthew’s gospel and it has all the political intrigue of present day Washington DC.
On Good Friday the story finishes with Pilate, who was the Roman governor, commanding that Jesus’ tomb be guarded so the body could not be stolen by his followers, so the tomb was sealed. Which makes Matthew’s story perhaps the most dramatic of the four gospels because it then requires an earthquake to break open the sealed tomb. An angel appears and the poor guards faint with fear. They can no longer see what is happening.
Matthew places great emphasis on “seeing” – the women go to see the tomb;
the angel says – come and see the place where he lay; and that they will see Jesus in Galilee; then suddenly Jesus is there and they see and touch him; and he too promises that the disciples will see him in Galilee. It reads a bit like a fact checker – see here – see this – see for yourself.
The story then carries on – back to the political:
some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. (Mt 28:11-15)
So you can change the story if necessary. Keep it quiet.
The trouble is Pilate and the Pharisees and the soldiers are dealing with the physical, visual aspects of the story. Matthew is writing about something else altogether. He is writing about seeing the world with eyes of faith, seeing the world with God’s eyes if you like.
Stanley Hauerwas writes in Matthew “Of course we cannot see the resurrection, because God cannot be seen. But we do see Jesus, who has been resurrected. Accordingly, the resurrection is the condition that now makes it possible for us to see truthfully all that is in God’s creation.”
The guards saw the empty tomb; the chief priests knew about the empty tomb and that did not make them believers. The women saw Jesus but women were not considered reliable witnesses in Jesus’ day so their word could not be relied upon. Not a very reliable way to build a case. But the gospel writers were not building a case for 21st century fact checkers, they were communicating a different kind of truth.
Matthew was giving words and meaning to people’s experiences, uncovering for them a truth they knew as followers, and now needed to be able to pass on to others. Why? Because to do so, to follow, made a difference. Made a difference to the way they saw and experienced the world; made a difference to their choices, the way they lived. And (this is where Pilate and the politics meets the story again) to be a follower of Jesus meant to see him as “Lord” – to call Jesus Lord, meant Caesar was not Lord. To call Jesus Lord meant that God’s reign was more powerful than Caesar and his soldiers and Pilate and the corrupt religious leaders.
When Pilate washed his hands of Jesus and let him be crucified we see respresented in the story all the times we look away from injustice in our world. To claim to see Jesus and to kneel at his feet and worship him was to see through the unjust politics of the time to another way.
So what kind of truth is this then? Is it just a first century version of fake news?
Well that is for each person to decide, to discern.
If we choose to claim the resurrection as truth it does have consequences: we can no longer turn away from the world’s suffering but face it head on with hope in our hearts. This is not the kind of truth some of our world leaders like. They instead see the empty tomb and go for the cover up story and remain silent.
I choose to say
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.