CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA!
We have been following Christ through Lent, with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We have tried to keep close to him through Holy Week, his betrayal, scourging and mocking, his sentence of crucifixion, his carrying of the cross and his agonising death. And now we joyfully and gratefully share with him in the victory of the Resurrection.
Without the Resurrection, his life and sufferings would have been meaningless. His death reveals the tragedy of human life when it is in conflict with God; but it also reveals God’s compassion towards us despite our sin. And Christ’s Resurrection shows that the love and forgiveness he displayed in his death leads to glory and new life. In him, death and resurrection cannot be separated.
But though we have followed Jesus through the last week of his life, it was not the same for us as it was for the Apostles. As we went through Holy Week over the past few days, we knew how the story would end. The Apostles did not. All along we knew that on the third day he would rise again. They had no such comfort. For them, his death was the end; they would never see him again. They had let him down at the very moment when he needed them; and now they would never be able to ask his forgiveness.
The Gospels do say he warned the Apostles that he would suffer and die, and then rise again. But the Gospels also say that they simply did not understand what he meant. Many, though not all, of the Jews at the time believed in resurrection from the dead; but they were thinking of a general resurrection in the future, when God would finally establish his Kingdom on earth and all the righteous would be gathered together in eternal bliss. They never imagined that one person would be resurrected ahead of all the rest.
So it is not surprising that the first reaction of the disciples to the report of the Resurrection was not joy, relief, gladness and rejoicing. The women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body were told by the ‘young man dressed in white’: ‘He has been raised; he is not here’. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ (Mark 16: 5-8). St Luke says that when the women later reported to the Apostles what they had seen and heard,is Kinbgdom on earthhis ‘these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them’ (Luke 24: 11).
In all the Resurrection appearances in the Gospels there is this mixture of belief and unbelief, of slow recognition and incredulity, of being sure but not yet sure. He was the same and yet transformed. They hesitated; it was all too good to be true. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise him until he broke the bread for them, and then he vanished from their sight. Later, when they were having their breakfast of fish and bread by the lakeside, St John says: ‘None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”, because they knew it was the Lord’ (John 21: 12).
If our experience of the Risen Christ is unlike that of the Apostles, it is much nearer to that of St Paul. He knew how the story had ended. He had heard, like us, that Jesus had been crucified. And he had also heard, like us, the report that Jesus had risen from the dead. But he resisted this, fiercely, passionately, so that he pursued the followers of Jesus even to death. Then suddenly the light broke in on him too. He was blinded, literally and metaphorically, dazzled by the light that shone on his eyes and in his mind. ‘Who are you, Lord?’ … ‘I am Jesus who you are persecuting’. The crucified, risen and glorified Jesus identified himself with those whom Paul was persecuting – and therefore also with all of us. Instantly, he recognised Jesus as Lord, and his life could never be the same again.
I think our celebration of the Resurrection is missing something here. We tend to associate fear and bewilderment with the Cross, and joy and new life with the Resurrection. And in a sense that is true. But the Gospels tell us that those to whom the resurrection was announced experienced bewilderment, terror and incomprehension. Perhaps we domesticate the Resurrection; we talk about it in a safe and comfortable way, like the glory of a beautiful sunrise. But this does not do justice to the overwhelming, blinding irruption of the God of glory made present to us in the face of the risen Christ.
The resurrection is continually happening for us. The light, the vision, is pouring into us. Our eyes may be dazzled by the light or blinded by seeing it. We try to open our blinded eyes to see him in Himself and in one another. At the same time the Resurrection is not yet, for us. It is still awaiting us. We are still in the darkness, and we walk towards the light in awe and trembling, hoping for courage. It is all too good to be true.