Jesus and VE Day
Jesus and VE Day
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4)
Did you join in celebrating the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe) last Friday evening, May the 8th? We did. We wanted to honour that wartime generation for the fortitude that helped secure our freedom. So we strolled down our avenue to savour the mood of the modest, impromptu street parties, under red-white-and-blue bunting stretched across the road.
How much the many owe to the few - then and now.
Of course, for many, the War was far from over in May 1945. My father-in-law, Stan, was still below decks aboard the Battleship, King George V, now in the Pacific, fending off kamikaze attacks, and eventually being there in Tokyo Bay, when Imperial Japan finally surrendered to the Allies.
Which is to say, the world always needs to be part of a bigger story and a greater triumph.
My mind turned to the thought that Christians have cause for even greater celebration in Jesus’ own VE day – Victory at Easter Day. He triumphed over cruel oppression, malignant evil powers, rank injustice - in fact over death itself, when on the third day he rose from the dead.
Victory at Easter means that, as believers in Jesus Christ,
we are a three-day-story people in a two-day-story world!
Two reactions follow from this.
(1) We may rejoice that the resurrection of Jesus on day three transforms the way the world looks and works for ever.
As the great missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin said, modern critics object to the Resurrection of Jesus because it cannot be fitted into our way of looking at the world. No, he said, it can’t: and that is because the Resurrection is the starting-point of a whole new way of looking at the world.
It was always this way from the beginning. Scoffing at the Resurrection was not left till the 18th century Enlightenment or the 21st century new atheists. No one at the time was under any illusions: they couldn’t get their heads round it either!
Matthew tells us those first opponents improvised two tactics to counter it.
They tried (a) to forestall the resurrection. They attempted to stop any talk of bodily resurrection by sealing the tomb where Jesus was buried and setting a guard over it (Matthew 27:62-66). That way we can say – it just didn’t happen.
Of course, they are later at a loss to explain why they didn’t offer the corpse as evidence to discredit the message.
They tried (b) to falsify testimony to the event by concocting a conspiracy theory about the disciples stealing the body at night, and they bribed the guards to go along with this ‘fake news’ (Matthew 28:11-15).
At least they were honest about it. First-century people were not naïve: they knew dead people didn’t normally rise from the dead. The very thought is revolutionary and disturbing. Some clever people would pay good money for it not to be true! Like many moderns it is best either to flatly deny that it happened or to falsify it by turning the possibility of Jesus’ ‘bodily’ resurrection into some psychologically unsatisfying fantasy about him living on vividly in the disciples’ memories.
But as the famous Church historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, is reputed to have said just before his death: ‘If Jesus did actually rise from the dead, then nothing else matters. And if he didn’t, then nothing else matters!’
(2) Which brings us to the second major point: What is our response as Easter people? What difference does it make to us that we are three-day-story-people who still live in a two-day-story world?
Well, (a) from the vantage point of the life and light and victory of Easter Day,
we need to look back on the Friday of crucifixion realistically and sympathetically.
For us as resurrection-people, there must be no glib triumphalism. We do not yet see all things subject to the Victory of Easter. There are no easy victories, no escape for us from the pain and vulnerability and mortality of living in a Friday world. Cheap grace cuts no ice in our still suffering world. Friday is still fraught with cruelty and injustice and innocent suffering and Christians have no automatic immunity from its viruses.
But because we are three-day-story people, we can live an Easter Day life in the midst of it. We rest our hopes on a deep conviction: that the Resurrection did not cancel out the Cross, but that the Cross was itself the victory which the Resurrection affirmed and demonstrated. We contend that his deepest shame was his greatest glory. And as three-day-story people we look back on Friday and dare to call it ‘Good’. In the good of that, we can weep with those who weep,
we can lament for our suffering world, we can groan over a groaning creation – and even as we rejoice with joy unspeakable, we taste the blessedness of those who mourn over God’s broken world.
And (b) what of Easter Saturday?
What does that look like and feel like to those who have tasted the ‘powers of the age to come’ on Resurrection Sunday morning?
Saturday? The in-between day between Good Friday and Easter Day?
How do we live there as Easter people? Is this Saturday just ‘le weekend’?
How was it then, if not the day for mourning buried loves, recalling failures and betrayals? In the light of Easter Day, it can never be ‘business as usual’. We too still live in that Saturday world. We face our mortality, we accept our limitations. We grieve as others do except that we do not grieve as those without hope;
being sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as having nothing, yet making many rich.
We do not have all the answers and we do not need to! We trust, and it is by trusting we know what we need to know, perplexed by so much, we are not driven to despair. We are cracked clay pots but the Easter light shines through. And that is enough – at least for now!
And let’s not forget that for those first disciples, of course, it was the Sabbath – the day of rest (Luke 23:56).
The early church fathers dared to see that dull Saturday as Jesus’ own ‘sabbath’, his day of rest. His healing of creation being done, he could rest from his labours and invite us into the ‘eternal rest’ of his finished work in a new creation.
For us every Sunday is remembrance day. We break bread and drink wine celebrating the fact that ‘for our eternal tomorrows Jesus gave his eternal today’.
Because of his Resurrection on Easter day, we are three-day-story people telling a new story to a two-day-story world. It makes all the difference.
Perhaps we may slightly alter what Jaroslav Pelikan said: If Jesus Christ did actually rise from the dead, then everything else matters!
Risking your life for Jesus makes sense, says Paul, if there is a Resurrection day coming. Whether risking martyrdom or simply dying well, whether learning how to love in a faithful marriage or doing faithful work, whether speaking the truth in love or forgiving your enemies…
To those who cynically throw caution to the winds and say: ‘Let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’, Easter people might well mischievously reply: ‘Let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we live’!
In Alan Lewis’ words: ‘Today must be worth living, if tomorrow is worth trusting’ – all the more so, ‘if God’s tomorrow has taken up residence in humanity’s today.’
Paul concludes his great resurrection recital this way:
‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ. With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.’