The Rt Rev David Bruce outside his Lisburn home.

In his Easter Message, Presbyterian Moderator, the Right Rev Dr David Bruce, recounts a conversation with a sceptical friend about what Easter means. His friend questioned if the resurrection of Jesus, that first Easter, actually happen at all, or was it a kind of metaphor?

Dr Bruce writes that “The record shows that Jesus did the apparently impossible”. He explains that the New Testament makes a shattering claim that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, a miracle witnessed and accounted for by not only his disciples, but hundreds of other people. While Good Friday marked the moment of Jesus’ supposed ‘failure’ as a would-be Messiah, Easter Sunday changed everything, as “Jesus, now alive, became a beacon of hope for sinful people everywhere,” he said.

Dr Bruce goes onto say, “This is our second Easter in the grip of the pandemic. The vaccines give us some hope that soon it might end. Our ultimate hope is not through an injection in our arms, but through the extraordinary act of love through which Jesus said, “Father, forgive them…”

The full text of the Moderator’s 2021 Easter Message

My old friend Michael, whom I have known since school days, sat back in his chair wearing a quizzical and slightly troubled expression. He and I had been talking on Zoom about Easter, and what it means. He chose his words carefully, as if knowing what he would say next might change our relationship.

“So, are you saying you believe Jesus Christ physically came back to life?” he said. “Are you saying that this Bible story of the resurrection is not a metaphor, because if you are, this is the single biggest issue I have about the Christian faith. It’s beyond my experience as a medical doctor, and beyond my understanding as a rational scientifically educated person.”

I recalled being in a tutorial group at theological college in Aberdeen, when this very subject was being discussed. The tutor asked us if we believed Jesus had truly come back from the dead. We each nodded our agreement, confirming what the creeds of the church had clearly stated for centuries.

She immediately turned to me and asked, “So David, would it make any difference to your faith if an archaeologist were able to prove that the bones he’d dug up from an ancient tomb outside Jerusalem were the bones of Jesus, thus disproving his physical resurrection?” I knew the answer I would give was important – indeed that it might define the future course of my life. “Yes, it would make a difference” I said. “Such a discovery would mean I was no longer a Christian.”

My answer was a kind of ‘on the fly’ reaction to what I had read in 1 Corinthians 15:17-20, which says, ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…’

The New Testament makes a shattering claim. Michael told me that, speaking as a doctor, dead people do not come back to life – and yet the New Testament says that Jesus did, physically, and with hundreds of witnesses. The record shows that Jesus did the apparently impossible. How are we to interpret this?

Good Friday marks the moment of Jesus’ supposed ‘failure’ as a would-be Messiah. Dead and buried – Friday marked the end of his mission, and the end of any hope for a broken and sinful world. Small wonder his followers fled.

But Easter Sunday changed everything. On Sunday, Jesus cheated death, so that Friday’s apparent failure was now properly seen as a triumph. Jesus, now alive, became a beacon of hope for sinful people everywhere – death was no longer the inevitable sentence they had to bear. His fleeing followers, having seen him risen with their own eyes, stopped running and instead set out to change the world – not deluded at all, but enthralled by a future with Jesus as their Lord.

This is our second Easter in the grip of the pandemic. The vaccines give us some hope that soon it might end. Our ultimate hope is not through an injection in our arms, but through the extraordinary act of love through which Jesus said, “Father, forgive them…”

My conversation with Michael continues. There is more to life than what we can know using our five senses – there is hope that, with Jesus, heaven awaits us!