What a story and what important and significant themes:
• Friday – the triumph of jealous hatred and the fragile beauty of forgiveness.
• Saturday – the silence of dashed hopes and disillusionment.
• Sunday – the renewal of hope, the triumph of good.
But while Easter is never less than these themes, it has to be more.
Sure, a story does not have to be true for its lessons to be valid. No one believes that the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears ever happened, but it’s a good reminder not to leave your porridge unattended. And life itself, the natural world, is full of metaphor. Each Spring brings a new crop of daffodils: no matter how dull and dreary the winter, hope springs eternal.
But Easter is more.
For one thing, those virtues of forgiveness, hope and goodness are not abstract concepts: they are embodied in the Person whose story is celebrated at Easter.
For another, the New Testament writers are at pains to emphasize the reality and physicality of the Risen Christ.
Take the fish.
The one Luke talks about in Luke 24. As Jesus suddenly appears to his startled disciples, he tells them that he is no ghost. ‘Touch me and see,’ he says – words that took on particular relevance in John’s account of Doubting Thomas. A ghost does not have flesh and bones.
It was still a bit hard to believe. But the disbelief was not the bitter disbelief of cynicism: it was the too-good-to-be-true disbelief of joy.
At which point Jesus asks for something to eat? Was he hungry (three days is a long time without food)? Or did he just want to underline the point that he had physically risen from the dead?
I’ll leave it to the specialists to debate the finer points of what qualifies as a truthful historical record, but Luke, Paul and John seem pretty convinced about what was seen and heard.
To the point that Paul was prepared to say that if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain.