Why Easter without God is an empty shell
Here we go again; the Church is having another moan. Chocolate, springtime, the National Trust what could possibly go wrong? Well, the Church has found something. Easter has been forgotten; it’s been dropped from the advertising.
Any preacher knows the danger of using a good illustration in a sermon. If it’s half-baked or too complicated you will lose everyone, but make it too good and the congregation will focus on that rather than the point you are trying to communicate. Perhaps that’s part of the problem with how most of us now understand Easter: we are so taken with the symbols that we have forgotten the very thing they point too.
And let’s be honest the symbols are brilliant. I am never quite sure about how the Easter bunny hopped into things, but fluffy chicks and chocolate are always going to get people’s attention.
Now I’ve always loved Easter eggs, but I have never quite recovered from the one I was given at Church when I was about eight. It was big – the biggest in the basket. I had got to the front of the queue and picked it, all lovely in its bright gold shiny paper. But as I unwrapped it the disappointment hit me. You see there was nothing inside. It was empty. Just a shell. Well, for Christians an egg hunt without the story of Easter feels a bit like that – what is on offer is just a hollow shell. It’s a bit like saying there is a treasure hunt, but when people find the treasure chest it is empty inside.
The only thing that is hollow about Easter is the empty tomb. Maybe that is what the Easter egg at Church was all about. But everything else about the story is about abundance and fullness of light and of love.
A couple of years ago I was explaining the Easter story to my son – he was about the same age as I had been when I had been let down by the egg at Church. We got to the crucifixion part and he stopped me: ‘Hang on Dad, we only celebrated Jesus’ birth a few months ago, why are you killing him off already?’ It was one of those occasions when you cannot find the right words to respond; children are great at that aren’t they? But he had hit on something.
There is a link between the beginning of the story and the end of the story. Both the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about the same thing – the reality of all that God is plunging into the reality of all that the world is. Into all the mess, darkness, and death that is too often the reality of too many in our world comes God himself, allowing the world to do it’s worst so he can drain suffering to its dregs and transform evil from the inside out.
And the story continues... life comes out of death. Easter announces the possibility of a beginning in every ending; a fresh word when the final word has been spoken; the triumph of life and joy when death and grief seem to have won. That’s the story Christians delight in telling. It’s the story that motivates us in our living and it’s the story we long to see lived out in our local communities.
In fact, do a bit of digging into the history of Cadbury’s and you will find all kinds of links with this story. It’s a story worth telling. A story worth living. Now the National Trust are brilliant at telling stories. It is how they bring their properties and the landscapes they manage to life. They keep history alive and help us to understand the past by telling the stories of places and the people who have lived there, of objects and the people who have used them. That’s why it is a shame they aren’t telling this story. Maybe it’s an oversight, maybe it is out of nervousness of upsetting people.
The Church is confident about telling the Easter story. It’s not because we want to force it on people or because we are racked with fear. It’s because we know how amazing the story is, how it can change lives, how it can change everything. There is nothing hollow about it. It is full of promise. So amidst all of the chocolate and chicks may each of us discover something new about this story: it’s never empty; only full of surprises.
Revd Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds.