Jesus' victory over death remains our steadfast hope

(Photo: Unsplash/Gregory Hayes)

I found myself being drawn back to Jon Stallworthy's excellent biography of the poet Wilfred Owen last weekend because I can't help comparing something he wrote with my understanding of Palm Sunday and all that followed Jesus' dramatic entrance into Jerusalem.

In April 1917, with World War I still raging, Owen and his fellow troops were ordered to move across open ground towards an area known as Savy Wood. The manoeuvre certainly took some courage because as soon as they started to advance they were met by a 'hurricane barrage' of high explosive shells.

Owen summed up the experience in these memorable words: "The sensations of going over the top are about as exhilarating as those dreams of falling over a precipice, when you see the rocks at the bottom surging up to meet you. I woke up without being squashed. Some didn't. There was an extraordinary exultation in the act of slowly walking forward showing ourselves openly."

I think of Palm Sunday, which we have just marked, as the day when Jesus finally went 'over the top'. It was the moment when He entered Jerusalem and threw down the gauntlet to the authorities. It was the day He finally 'brought things to a head' and challenged them to accept Him as their rightful King.

They didn't of course but that came as no surprise. They had very different agendas because they knew that if they acknowledged Him as their Messiah it would mean drastic changes, both for the Temple and those who ran it. It would mean a loss of prestige, power and a lucrative income. Running 'the system' was a very profitable business. Jesus knew it wouldn't end well then, and it didn't with a desperate Roman governor doing all he could to keep trouble to a minimum. And so, in contrast to Wilfred Owen, Jesus ended up 'squashed', or to put it more accurately 'crucified'.

That should have been the end of the story of course, but much to the establishment's dismay his followers began to claim he had come back to life again. People will say things like that simply can't happen of course, but we would do well to be cautious; when we suggest some things are impossible we run the risk of ending up with 'egg on our face'.

Take Simon Newcomb, for example. Brilliant scientist that he was, he famously stated that men would never be able to fly in 'heavier than air' machines. It didn't take long for two Wrights to prove him wrong!

The evidence is there for all to see, and like countless millions of others I can think of no better historical explanation for the emergence of the early church than the claim that God raised Jesus back to life again. And that is a fantastic thought because, if it is true it would mean that Jesus has given us a glimpse of God's future and it is going to be infinitely better than anything we experience at the moment.

This is why Christians can celebrate at Easter whatever the weather, and however severe the lockdown rules. They can look forward to a future free of every restriction, including death. They may not know the date of course, but they do have the data, the most important of which is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.