Rev’d Dr Andrew Cameron, Director of St Mark’s, reflects on our God who loves to surprise us.
The most surprising thing is how surprising it is.
There was plenty unsurprising about the Friday. Betrayal, injustice, casual violence. Saturday was bog-standard, too: a corpse to deal with, tears, much hiding.
How many times have human affairs done this bloody merry-go-round. Through it all, to the end, Jesus himself was something else, in his determination to keep on loving out of his deep agony. But true to form, it mattered more to humanity to kill that than honour it. How many times have vicious regimes manage to kill the best of us. No surprises there, either.
It really is worth pausing to notice how boring a resurrection-less universe is. The odd beautiful person may rise up for a few months or years amongst the graft, self-interest and power-plays. But death pulls them down too, and we’re back to the usual, with no circuit breaker, and not much other than that noble, defiant, faltering, erratic human will to try being different.
A few years later, they took from the surprise that maybe, just maybe, our own lives do not have to keep barrelling down the same-samo boring predictability that constitutes our ‘identity’, our ‘this is just who I am, so deal with it’: ‘Just as Christ was raised from the dead,’ says one who had himself been upended by the surprise, ‘so we too might walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4).
It turns out they say this a lot, these early Christians. The surprise punched their lives into completely different trajectories.
We moderns nod benevolently at that, of course. ‘That’s nice,’ we like to think; ‘nothing like the power of a good story.’ Our groupthink-scientistic-naturalism prefers to leave it at that, because in a closed universe this kind of surprise is not the kind we’re up for. We like it predictable, hence our predictable lenses for this story.
But the surprises won’t stop. There’s that none of them expected it, not a one. It was not like they were sitting around primed for Jesus’ return. It was seen and reported by shocked, gibbering women, who (unsurprisingly) were mocked. Jesus then meets them—with no recriminations, still brimming with love. He reconciles with his Chief Coward, whose life is so upended by joy that he practically founds the Church. Throughout these days, Jesus makes such sense of it all that we’re still quoting his take on the old Scriptures pre-dating him.
On it goes. Surprise after surprise. In one speech, the ex-Chief-Coward says over and over to the bullying killers: you killed him, but God raised him! Peter returns to that continually (Acts 2, 3); there is an incredulity to it, almost as if to say: it’s like God just wasn’t going to have it, this time, this standard human killing, and we saw him reverse that! As another one puts it, Jesus ‘was declared to be Son of God with power,’ by God’s Spirit, ‘by resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 6:4). Oh, and did we tell you—we’ve even touched him!
See, we can mosey along as if it’s a resurrection-less universe. As if boring humanity says what goes, as if death is the end, as if there’s no God to care, and as if all real change is up to us. From time to time, some covid-like thing upsets all that, and we feel a short window of smallness. But it remains easier to wave off those women and the rest of them, as if our lenses are always the right lenses, ‘above us only sky’. Staying that way, and running our lives accordingly, is easy. The preferred conceit of our day, the comforting myth of our times, the clock-ticking ordinary, is this resurrection-less universe.
But it isn’t.
God surprised everyone.
He is risen.