Matthew J Hughes
April LeaderAs we approach Easter, I am reminded of how 5 years ago, two weeks before Holy Week, an FA Cup quarter final match between Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers was stopped after 41 minutes, when a young Bolton player, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed on the pitch, having suffered a heart attack. A newspaper article at the time described what happened, as thousands of fans looked on in horror. “It began gently, almost hesitantly at first. Picking up on the emotions of the 700 or so away fans, the tens of thousands gathered inside White Hart Lane glanced sideways for approval and then added their voices to the hubbub until it became a primal roar. ‘Fab-reece Moo-umba,’ they implored, ‘Fab-reece Moo-umba’. The scene on the pitch had transcended all petty rivalries and entrenched loyalties.”
As Christians, we remember an event which happened over 2000 years ago, and we remember another body lying motionless. The body of a man named Jesus, killed by crucifixion, laid to rest in a tomb outside Jerusalem. St Paul, writing about 30 years after that, said of Jesus that ‘he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.’ Those words were written to two rival groups, pointing out that through Jesus’ death the two groups were now one.
The collapsed body of one footballer led the home fans at White Hart Lane to join in the same song as the away fans, and a crowd of two normally divided groups were now acting as one. In an even more powerful way, St Paul said that the death of Jesus brings together different groups of opposing people. His crucifixion is where heaven’s love takes on itself all of earth’s anger. The death of Jesus Christ brought together Jews, Greeks, and Romans, whose languages were all used in the carving on the cross, and who would all go on to make up the movement that sprung up in his name – Christianity. However, the deeper meaning of Easter is that Jesus’ death does not only reconcile us with each other, but with God. At Easter we remember how God gave up everything for each of us. On the cross, His arms were stretched out to welcome us. As Richard Foster once wrote, ‘love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross.’ He destroyed the dividing wall not just between rival groups, but most importantly between us and Him.
Nearly an hour and 20 minutes after Fabrice Muamba’s heart had stopped on that football pitch, after 15 defibrillator shocks - on the pitch and in the ambulance – and with the care and expert attention of the best heart doctors in London, his heart started beating again. In an interview a month later, Muamba said that he believed his survival was thanks to his prayers to God. He told the press about a phone conversation with his father before the match, when he had asked God for protection.
On the third day after his death 2000 years ago, Christians believe that Jesus was raised to life again. His heart began beating again. The resurrection is the real miracle of Easter. The resurrection is a sign that this world is not as it is meant to be. Jesus’ rising from the dead is a glimpse of a completely different way of life, one where death is not the end. The Easter message is that God is even more powerful than death. It is also a reminder that so many things that do happen – earthquakes, refugee crises, people who collapse on the football pitch and do not recover – are not God’s final dream for this world. His final plan is one where death will be overcome.