Nigel Uden, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, shares how reading fuelled a rediscovery of the real song of Easter
This is Holy Week – the week of weeks. Throughout my ministry, Holy Week has been preceded by a season of slightly anxious wondering about what to say around the events of Calvary and the empty tomb. Always, some reading helps.
This year, I was assisted by a senior colleague offering a comment upon the sermon I had preached at a funeral. I had suggested that the empty tomb was crucial as an image of God’s reliably resurrected love, for the deceased and for those who mourn. I suppose I was saying that, in the inextinguishable light of the empty tomb, those who had sought to defeat that love were seen to have been foiled. Concerned that I was understating the cross, my correspondent reminded me of the work of Scottish theologian PT Forsyth, who 110 years ago published The Cruciality of the Cross.
After a journey out of more liberal thought, Forsyth wrote:
Only if [we] hold that in the atoning cross of Christ the world was redeemed by holy God once for all, that there, and only there, sin was judged and broken, that there and only there the race was reconciled and has its access to the face and grace of God – only then [have we] the genius and plerophory* of the Gospel.
I understand Forsyth to be saying that the cross is crucial because it is where God shared the world’s pain and suffering, as only God could if it was to be redeemed. ‘The greatest human need’, Forsyth wrote, ‘is not only holy love, but holy love.’ Impressive stuff. I am helped by it, and grateful to my colleague. But I am not fully satisfied by it. I need the rest of Easter.
A clear out of my church office provided the stimulus to re-read something else. I came across a more recent book Dare We Speak of Hope? by Allan Aubrey Boesak (Eerdmans, 2014). Boesak is a South African, who was active and influential when I was serving the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa in the early 1990s. He offers a pithy understanding of Easter from the perspective of struggling for justice: ‘The resurrection is God’s insurrection, God’s rebellion. … It is God’s uprising against the violence that nailed Jesus to the cross and freezes us into paralysis.’ This resurrection/insurrection language is not a novel play on words but for me, it is a useful one. The attack on grace and truth which we see at Calvary is not the end. The empty tomb tells how God’s bigger than that, stronger than that, and victorious over that. Somehow, that gives us hope. I certainly recall how this sense of insurrection was a hope giver in the South Africa of high apartheid.
One final word which has nourished my Easter thinking. I had a rather lavish Lent lunch with an American theologian, Thomas W Currie III. In a book of addresses to his theological students, Bread for the Journey (2014), he spoke of ‘hope migrating’. Pondering that idea, I was left realising that hope doesn’t leave us where it finds us. It has the capacity to help us migrate to another place. That is Easter’s hope. It doesn’t leave us with God’s grace and truth in a tomb of defeat. It points us to God’s newness, where, despite unrelenting challenge, grace and truth endure – durably, penetratingly, transformatively.
I don’t fully understand it, because I believe it to be beyond our human understanding. But it does stir my Alleluias. They are the real song of Easter, as we celebrate the insurrection of holy love tenaciously holding us in migrating hope.
* full assurance, certainty