Pause for thought: He Came Back!
What thriller or romance is complete without a moment of tension, with a threat of hopes dashed or promises betrayed, a metaphorical or literal cliff-hanger … will they be abandoned or will their friends / lover / comrades come back for them. As far back as Penelope’s wait for Odysseus in Homer, right through to Paddington’s descent into a watery grave before his ex-con mates arrive, ‘will they come back for me’ expresses a deep longing in the human heart. Perhaps it comes from our experience of children, when hopefully we start to learn that parents go – to the other room, to the shops, to work – and come back.
Easter is a dazzling diamond, beautiful in almost infinite number of ways, in different lights and in different moments. But for me, this easter, ‘he came back!’ has become the theme of my heart. That Easter Sunday morning, 1989 years ago, Jesus came back.
‘He came back’ – death could not hold him. This is the glorious, big-picture, message. ‘Death has lost its sting’. As the letter to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus breaks the power of death, and frees those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. ‘We’ll meet again’ as Vera Lynn sang, because as Jesus’ followers we know that death is not the end. Sometimes we do slouch back into a cultural gloom, as if it would be rude to be confident that a better life awaits us after our deaths. We need Easter to remind us of the reliable hope we have.
‘He came back’ – Jesus did not escape from flesh and blood, shedding it like the mechanic, farmer or rugby player showering off the grime of the day. As the gospels are at pains to point out, after his resurrection Jesus ate and drank, hugged and was touched; he was no ghost or spirit. Our society is ill-at-ease with the body. We fight it, sculpt it, mold it. We speak as if ‘we’ are not our bodies, ‘we’ are something else, corralling our bodies with diets and regimes, frustrated with its limitations. Many long to escape from it, and be the Insta-touched up and sanitized version of themselves. How glorious, if challenging, that Jesus kept his flesh and blood, reminding us that all of God’s creation is good. Our own bodies and the environment around us – God’s creation – needs healing not abandoning.
‘He came back’ – for me! We see this most poignantly in Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene that first Easter Sunday morning. Jesus calls her by her name; she is overcome with emotion, and wants nothing more than to hug him and never let him go again. The one person who had truly seen her, valued her, and loved her, had gone … but he had come back, for her. Indeed Jesus promised his disciples that when he went it would be to ‘prepare a place for them’ and that he would ‘will come back and take you to be with me’. We may feel sometimes like a child on the first day of nursery, wondering when, if, our parent will return for us. The day drags on. Maybe the parent is late. But of course they do come back, because we are dearly loved, and valued above all things.
Jesus came back – everything has changed.
Revd Prof. Jeremy Duff