Perhaps for the first time in history, Christians cannot gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. For countless people, there will be discouragement in being unable to celebrate the Easter story, but having to recall that story at home doesn’t mean the story is changed. It is still the same story.
It is still the same story, or it is still the same set of stories, for, if the stories of the Sunday morning are read side by side, the Gospels are wonderfully inconsistent in their telling of the events. There is a reassurance in that inconsistency, it says that here are four writers who have set out with integrity to try to record the story as they have received it. It says that there has been no attempt to iron out the creases, no attempt to reconcile differences. It says that the compilers of the New Testament recognized the honest endeavour of each of the four writers and believed integrity was most important, that it was not a compiler’s place to change the story, but to pass it on with honesty, even if there were irreconcilable differences.
The accounts seem muddled, Saint Mark’s account is not even complete, stopping at Verse 8 of the sixteenth chapter with the women in a state of confusion, but the muddle does not detract from the story.
The story has an empty tomb, which opponents were never able to disprove, never able to point to another place and suggest that the body of Jesus had been re-buried there. The story has a group of people, women and men, who are utterly transformed by their experience, so transformed they were prepared to die for telling that story. The story launched a movement that was unstoppable, a movement that could not be suppressed by the greatest empire in history.
An Easter without church can be a disappointment, or it can be an opportunity to read that story and to ask what it means.
Speaking one Easter at a church tucked away in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the Irish Midlands, I talked about the empty tomb, the change in the disciples, and the growth of the church, suggesting each was like a leg of a table, and that a fourth leg was needed for the table to stand. I quoted the first five lines of the refrain of the hymn I serve a risen Saviour,
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
and turned to James, the churchwarden, for the final line:
He lives within my heart
The closure of churches through coronavirus asks that single question of Christians, “you ask me how I know he lives?”
The answer does not depend on whether a church is open or closed.