Easter Day: Isaiah 65.17-25, 1 Cor 15.19-26, Luke 24.1-12
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia! The liturgical colour may be celebratory white or gold but Easter Sunday is a “Green” day. Churches will be decorated with flowers, the Easter Garden transformed, and nature metaphors such as chicks and lambs will be pressed into service to speak of new life. Even the time of year, spring, echoes the message of the day, as the earth teems with new growth after its period of dormancy. It is a day when the natural world and the world of faith seem to be intertwined.
The association in our imagination between Easter and the natural world is so strong that it can come as something of a surprise to discover what a low profile it has in Luke’s narrative. We might have expected nature to have exploded with the joy and excitement of resurrection moment, birds singing a symphony, flowers spontaneously blooming, or indeed the trees of the field clapping their hands, but no such imagery is deployed. The setting of the tomb in a garden and Jesus being mistaken for the gardener is found only in John’s Gospel. Nature rises to the occasion in Matthew's Gospel, delivering an earthquake to announce the “earth shattering” event, but Luke makes no mention of this. His focus is clearly on the experiences of the human witnesses, their confusion, doubt and amazement.
Although Luke is quiet on the nature front, the Old and New Testament readings more than make up for this. Isaiah paints a compelling picture of God creating new heavens and a new earth. A place of joy and delight, where weeping and distress are things of the past, lives will be long, the land will be fruitful, and peace will reign to such an extent that nature will no longer be “red in tooth and claw”. The wolf and lamb shall feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Whilst Paul focusses on the image of first fruits, describing the Resurrected Christ as “the first fruits of those who have died”.
Paul would have understood “first fruits” with reference to the practice of offering to God the first of the grain, fruit, or vegetable harvests. Doing this was an act of trust; trust that a greater harvest would follow. Jesus’ resurrection then, is not a one-off event, but the first of numerous resurrections. The resurrection he experiences will one day be shared by those who belong to him. It may be whimsical, but I liken this to snowdrops and spring. When the snowdrops bloom it is still winter, spring is a long way ahead, but those first flowers stand as a reminder and a promise that winter will not last forever and that, in due course, other flowers will bloom and spring will return. Jesus’ resurrection contains a similar promise for the future.
The image of first fruits can be extended to speak of the resurrection as the first fruits of the new or “renewed” creation - a foretaste of what the world will be like when the Isaiah's vision is fulfilled and God’s kingdom comes in all its fullness. Then death will be no more and all things, including the natural world, will be restored and redeemed.
Amid the desperation of the environment crisis, the message of Easter is, as it always has been, one of hope. God can bring triumph out of disaster, joy from sorrow, life out of death. There is no situation so bleak that it cannot be redeemed. The good news is that in the renewed creation, we will continue to enjoy, delight and appreciate the natural world. But this does not mean we treat the Earth any way we wish, with no consequences, expecting God to pick up to the pieces.
Those who believe in the resurrected Christ are called, like him, to be “first fruits of the new creation”. They are to live as if the new creation in all its fullness and glory is already here, show what it will be like and point others to it. In such the "new creation" community values such as seeking peace, a thirst for justice and respecting the Earth will be second nature, and every day will be, like Easter, a "Green day".