Experiencing the first Easter - Revd Christopher Bryan
Revd Christopher Bryan, Rector of Gauzebrook and Area Dean for North Wiltshire, reflects on is an event which has changed the world.
Getting up at five in the morning, in a time zone two hours ahead of the UK was a bit of a challenge, but it was worth it. Jerusalem’s narrow streets were virtually deserted apart. On pilgrimage the previous day, we had spent all afternoon walking and praying over parts of the Via Dolorosa which were now a brisk fifteen minutes walk.
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the atmosphere was quiet and prayerful, a far cry from yesterday’s throngs of tourists and pilgrims. I passed by bearded Coptic priests carefully preparing for Sunday worship, until I reached the little church within a church at the heart of the building. There were no queues, so I went in, knelt and prayed at the place where Jesus was raised.
That’s a big claim to make – that a certain spot is the place where the first Easter happened. I have to admit, I didn’t have great expectations before my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I imagined endless tours of churches where some mediaeval monk had said ‘it might have happened here, this place will do as well as anywhere else’. In the event, I was surprised by the historical continuity:as early as 135AD the Emperor Hadrian tried to suppress Christian worship at the now-traditional sites by building pagan temples on top of them – thereby handily marking the sites for future generations!
I hadn’t expected that these experiences would ground my faith so strongly through connection with a particular time and place. We can end up believing the great Christian truths as dogmas. We can understand the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection as theological statements about forgiveness and eternal life – eternally valid spiritual insights which transform the human condition.
They are all these things, and far more. For the Christian belief is that at a particular time, in a particular place, a particular man was raised from death. God has acted within history therefore nothing will be same again. The resurrection of Jesus is not a spiritual belief which changes us insofar as we allow it; rather it is an event which has changed the world and in which He invites us to join.