There’s snow on the ground in Moscow.
I hadn’t realised that Easter in the absence of growing things would feel so much less like Easter. There are a number of trees outside, but they are completely bare. Whitish-brownish heaps of snow shovelled from the roads and pavements don’t look like they’re planning to melt any time soon. The greenest things on the streets are fence posts and traffic lights. It’s also not Easter anyway, according to the Julian calendar.
It is Gregorian Easter Saturday, though, and I’m trying to believe in resurrection – resurrection, as opposed to the resurrection. The resurrection is and always has been glorious and elusive. In a distant time and place the much-loved and even-more-loving Lord appeared unexpectedly, disappeared, appeared again, gave many convincing proofs that he was alive, was as frank and baffling as ever, and finally moved on, up into the clouds. Too good to be true, or so good it just might be more true than anything: either way, probably not more difficult to accept as historical fact in snow than at any other time.
But to believe in resurrection when it looks like Always Winter And Never Christmas is a challenge. Believing that spring will come, reasonable though the belief is, takes a bit of energy. Believing that there is life, boundless life, for every person in this block of flats, in this city, for a whole society, is mind-boggling. That every person labouring hard in the face of whatever difficulty could be helped, have hope. That every person on the streets could be rehoused and restored. That the resurrection of Jesus not only happened back there and then but could have real and wonderful consequences in the real and not quite so wonderful circumstances of ordinary life. Belief gets tired, can’t always jump that high, perhaps doesn’t even make the attempt. And the thought that, as a Christian, one’s meant to be empowered to bring this life to people, often results only in a sense of general incompetence.
Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John.
Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk…
I read this recently and thought of the disabled ex-soldiers who collect money on the Moscow metro. They seem strong, hardy, resilient. At least one, having lost both legs, sits on a little wooden board on wheels, wears fingerless gloves and pushes himself along with his fists on the ground. I do dream of seeing him healed and carrying his own wooden board up the escalators to daylight. But it seems like fantasy. In practice, I’m generally better provided with silver and gold than with faith for such things to happen.
Still if Christ after his resurrection was sudden and strange, coming and going, for the people who knew him and saw him then, perhaps the unreal-seeming Real Life that the Easter story promises is not so far from the rest of the world: hidden behind a thin wall, invisible, unnoticed in the crowd but still there, likely at any moment to stroll up or suddenly burst in. They saw things that we only dream of, but they were surprised by it all, so perhaps we will be, too. ‘Easter makes him dangerous. Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.’ The snow was still on the ground when they started to say that Aslan was on the move. Jesus was born in a stable, died along with other men according the Romans’ usual routine, and rose quietly on a Sunday morning when most of the town was asleep. Today I believe in the resurrection and in resurrection. I believe it happened, and I believe it is coming.
[Note: The title and ‘Easter makes him dangerous’ quote come from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew; the passage about Peter and John is Acts 3:2-8.]