‘There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it’. Matthew 28:2
Talking of great writers, Seamus Heaney, himself a Nobel prize winner, speaks of the ‘rooted normality of the major talent’. In plain words, Heaney believes that greatness goes with being down to earth. It’s an important idea, that being a truly great person requires being able to live and to talk as everyone else. It’s an idea that’s at the heart of our Christian faith, that Jesus, the greatest person whom we can imagine, was the most down to earth man of all.
Every Christmas we read the words from Saint John Chapter 1 Verse 14, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God takes on our flesh and blood and comes to live an ordinary life among us, not as a ruler, not as a philosopher, but as a working man.
The down to earth Jesus knows what ordinary life is like and when we read the accounts of the miracles, they are about down to earth things. The first miracle at the wedding party at Cana in Galilee, in John Chapter 2, captures a sense of Jesus, the greatest, understanding normality. It is not an emergency or a crisis, it is just the possibility of major embarrassment for the hosts at the wedding party, the wine has run out and Jesus responds by changing the water into wine.
When we look at the feeding of the Five Thousand in Mark Chapter 6 and the feeding of the Four Thousand in Mark Chapter 8, we again see Jesus showing greatness in the ordinariness of life: people are hungry, they need to be fed. It is hard to imagine anything more normal than the need for people to eat. The healing miracles are down to earth moments, ordinary people, sometimes very poor people , as in the case of blind Bartimaeus or the men with leprosy, want nothing more complicated than to enjoy ordinary lives and Jesus responds to those very normal hopes—this is down to earth greatness.
Jesus expects his friends to be rooted in normality, to be down to earth people, he could not have put it in much plainer words than he does in Matthew 18:3, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’. How far the church has moved from that plainness, that normality.
Jesus is down to earth, he understands normality, he understands our lives and, when he rises from the dead, he does in a way that ordinary folk would understand. Saint Matthew’s description of the events in the garden has wonderful sense of what ordinary people might notice, ’There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it’.
The angel sitting on this great boulder brings a great sense that this is a moment that ordinary people would understand. This is not a moment that requires complicated explanations, it does not require people to have university educations or theological training; this is a simple fact that Jesus who was dead is now alive. He is different, but he is very definitely alive.
We read John Chapter 20 Verse 15, and the risen Jesus appears in a very plain and ordinary way; Mary thinks he is the gardener.
On the evening of that same day, Luke Chapter 24 describes Jesus walking along with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and , as the dusk fell, the disciples being concerned about him walking further when it was dark. He sits down to have a meal with them and they recognize him as he breaks the bread. Nothing complicated, nothing demanding that anyone be a great intellectual, Jesus appearing in the normal, everyday life of his friends.
Jesus recognizes that ordinary people want ordinary proof. He understands Thomas who wants physical evidence that the person who was dead is really alive. ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’. Curiosity, the desire for evidence, these are normal thoughts and Jesus understands normality.
The extent to which Jesus is rooted in normality is captured in John Chapter 21 Verse 9. The disciples have been fishing all night, they are tired, they are hungry, and they have caught nothing. Jesus appears on the lakeshore and tells them to cast their nets on the other side, and the nets are soon filled. They go ashore and Jesus has breakfast prepared for them, ‘When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread’. It is a perfect example of a down to earth God.
Today we celebrate that the God who prepared barbecued fish for hungry fishermen is the God who is with us now. We celebrate that the flesh and blood Jesus who was crucified was the flesh and blood Jesus who was raised from the dead. We celebrate that the one who lived amongst normality understands our normality.
True greatness demands being down to earth. There is no-one greater and no-one more down to earth than this Jesus—dead and, behold, alive for evermore.