The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, reflects on Easter as a "journey... Easter is lots of stories rolled into one and it can make real demands on us."
Surprising numbers of people still go to Church at Christmas and Easter in this country, but probably more at Christmas than at Easter. Why then is Christmas that bit more popular? I suppose it's partly because Christmas is quite a simple story – it's about the gift of God to us, in the Christ child; it's about a present that all we have to do is receive. But Easter's more complicated. Easter is a journey. Easter is lots of stories rolled into one and it can make real demands on us.
From the very earliest days of the church, celebrating Easter has been quite a long job. It's spilled over into the whole week before it – Holy Week – as it's been called for many, many centuries. And in holy week, what we do is walk alongside Jesus in the last week of his life. The church reads and acts out that story in all kinds of ways during those days so that by the time you get to Easter you've actually travelled quite a long way.
So the whole story of Holy Week ends with the celebration of the resurrection. We begin it on Easter Eve, and then on the morning of Easter Sunday it blazes out in all its glory, in all its triumph. The tomb is empty, there is no power that can hold Jesus down or lock him up. The stone, the entrance of this great rock tomb is heaved away by the life of God, and there is no dead body there, there is no Jesus locked up in the past, there is only Jesus alive forever more.
So at Easter we celebrate not just the fact that Jesus rose from the dead - as if that were an interesting fact that happened many centuries ago - we celebrate the fact that, in the words of the Bible, because "he is alive, we are alive".
We know that we are held in God's hands, that our lives are held firmly and lovingly forever by the mercy of God. We know we have a future in his love, and that nothing can take that away.
It's a long journey, a journey from the moment when we thought we could welcome from God cheerfully and happily because he seems to come and fulfil all our desires. Palm Sunday is a cheerful occasion. And then we have to face the fact that the Jesus who has arrived is perhaps not quite what we want, he's making us feel uncomfortable. He's changing us. And human beings push back against that change. And they do it violently and horribly. They try to push Jesus right out of the world. And we have to face in ourselves all those aspects of our lives which try to push God away. And then we realise the amazement, wonder and gratitude, but however hard we try to push it away, he won't go away. He's there, he's promised to be there, he will be there for us wherever we are. And so at the end of our celebration of Easter, that long journey of Holy Week, we can say, in the words of St Matthew's Gospel - right at the end of that Gospel – as we've heard Jesus saying, "I'm with you always. I'm with you 'til the very end of the world."