One of the greatest mistakes that any of us could make about Easter Day is to think that it is the end of anything – a happy ending to the events of Holy Week, which miraculously makes everything fine once again, somehow just as everything was before.
It was, as it happens, a mistake that the apostles and their friends made amidst all the excitement of the Easter event, but this was totally understandable. In John’s Gospel, we read of Mary Magdalene, when she discovers who Jesus is, trying to hang on to him, to reassure herself that everything is back to normal again and has turned out all right, and that things will be as they were before the terrors and horrors of Good Friday. Indeed, she can forget about Good Friday! Jesus tells her not to cling on to him, that he must travel on further, travelling on to his Father and her Father, to his God and her God. In other appearances of our Lord after his resurrection, we read how he abruptly leaves the disciples, just as they are getting used to his presence with them again. And, when two disciples walk with him to Emmaus, we are told that first he gives the definite impression that he has to go on further. And even when they persuade him to stay with them, and they share a meal together, he then vanishes from their sight, just at the crucial moment when they have finally worked out who he is, and what is going on.
Easter, for you and me as for the first disciples, is not about having Jesus back again with things as they were in the past. We are told very clearly in those resurrection stories that when we think we have Jesus all worked out, when we think we have him where we want him, somehow ‘boxed in’ or even caged within our understanding, he moves on further and goes away ahead of us. This is part of the excitement of the Christian journey, the pilgrimage that every one of us is called to join. The risen Jesus Christ won’t be ‘held onto’, as Mary Magdalene wanted to hold on to him, or as the disciples wished him to stay with them in an upper room or on a Galilean mountain top, or as another two disciples wanted him to stay on at Emmaus.
It is very easy for us to try to worship a Jesus who is within our grasp and, even more easy, to serve a Jesus Christ who does not disturb us constantly, a Jesus Christ who fits in with our picture of him, and only where we want him to fit in! This is not the Jesus Christ of the Gospels. It is not the Jesus Christ of the Easter message.
Jesus always calls us to travel on further with him. He calls us to bring others with us as companions on this journey. He tells Mary Magdalene to go and to tell the disciples the news of Easter. He tells others that he will meet up with them in Galilee if they go there. He tells Peter that he must go elsewhere and feed the sheep of Christ. There is no standing still in the Easter faith. There is always a journey to take. If we will not journey on with Christ, he will leave us behind, not because he wants to, but because we want to stay by ourselves without him. What he is saying to us, ‘Do not cling to me in order to support your own prejudices or desires, but rather follow me on a mission.’
And this journeying, this pilgrimage may take us to strange and difficult places. St Peter is taken to a place where he has to change his mind completely about what the boundaries of the Christian Church might be. He doesn’t find this change of mind easy, as we know, but it transforms the whole mission of the Church, and outsiders now become the same as insiders. The labels no longer matter. The Christian journey takes St Paul not only to Damascus but all over the known world, preaching the revolutionary Gospel that God loves all people, and that in him there is no distinction between Jews and non-Jews, those who are slaves or free, male or female, like us or not like us, but all are those for whom Christ died and was raised from the dead.
Yes, the Easter journey may indeed take us to places and people we never thought we could know and love in the name of Jesus Christ, but it may also be a journey of a different kind. It may also be a journey that forces us to come to know ourselves, to acknowledge what within us is hindering our growth in Christ. To be able to face up to the guilts, the fears, the obsessions, the self-obsessiveness and often the self-righteousness that are the roads into a bottomless pit of self-pity and self-centredness, and to allow Christ to transfigure these, so that we too are risen with him beyond the chains of spiritual death.
If Jesus Christ is risen in us, we must walk with him in the light of his resurrection, never contented with what we are and where we are, but always seeking to find him in others, to bring others to him, and within our own lives and with his grace to destroy everything that takes us on any journey away from his love and his forgiveness. Easter is not the end of anything, but the beginning of a wonderful journey with Jesus Christ.