Easter Day – We rise in Him

   Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Today there is a spring in our step, a lightness to our eyes, our Lenten preparations are complete and we are ready to sing out with joy!  We hear church bells throughout the city.  If we held back our voices the very rocks would cry out!

But we are so used to the message of Resurrection, can we imagine its impact to the first disciples?

1 What is Jesus’ Resurrection?

In the Old Testament there is speculation in the Wisdom writings and in the Psalms and in the Prophets about the life to come – but there is also a certain ambiguity – some passages affirming, some seeming to deny the Resurrection.  We hear this heartbreaking longing of the deeply suffering Job (14:7-10):

For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
 Though its root grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the soil,
 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put out branches like a young plant.
 But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?

Later we will hear Job possibly affirm even a bodily resurrection –  I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.  [Job 19:25-27]  Yet even here there is an argument about the Hebrew text: is it “in my flesh” or “from my flesh” or “without my flesh”?

We know in Jesus’ time that the Sadducees, who were devote Jews, denied the resurrection at the end of time, while the Pharisees affirmed it.  And Jesus spoke clearly against those who denied the resurrection saying – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the God of the dead but God of the living. [Matthew 22:32]  Jesus said to his disciples many times in his ministry that he would rise from the dead.  And yet, the Gospels affirm that despite this preparation, they could not fathom what he meant.  Their great sorrow at his departing reveals their lack of understanding of or hope in Jesus’ promise.

The disciples Peter and John running to sepulchre, Eugène Burnand

Yet we see in today’s Gospel reading [St John 20:1-10] that there is an energy released in these deeply grieving individuals – first in Mary Magdalene, who when she saw that Jesus’ body was gone, ran to the Apostles to tell them.  And we see Peter and John, who had been in hiding, for fear of arrest, immediately leave their shelter to run to the tomb.  The Apostle John, says that when he saw the tomb empty, and the grave clothes lying there neatly in the tomb, he believed for the first time.  Hope was kindled, but perhaps that hope had already begun working itself deep in their hearts when they heard he was missing.

And in the readings over the next weeks we will reflect on the various appearances of Jesus.  His resurrection is a bodily resurrection, not just a spirit appearing.  Jesus ate with a piece of fish and honeycomb in their presence to prove it. [Luke 24:42] Jesus would have Thomas put his fingers in the wounds in his hands and in his side to prove it. [St John 20:27]  Jesus appeared to them in his body, yet is was a body glorified – with a new freedom of movement – to appear and disappear, to be known and to be unknown. [e.g. Luke 24]  How weakened was his body after his passion and death on the Cross, it had been sown in weakness, but it was raised in power. [1 Cor 15]

No one had ever been raised like this from death to life.  Paul says Jesus is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. [1 Cor 15:20]  In other words, Jesus shows us by His Resurrection what we can expect at the end of time for ourselves.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection has profound implications:

  • It shows us that what Jesus promised is true – and if this most astounding promise is true, then his other promises must also be true.
  • It means His offering of himself for the sins of the world is accepted by God, it is efficacious, effective for the forgiveness of our sins – his actions have been vindicated by the Father. God has provided the sacrifice for us – we needn’t spend our lives making up for sin, or worried about final judgement, but trusting in his offering, we respond in acts of love with complete freedom.
  • We also have a new relation to death on earth – of our loved ones – of our own impending deaths – we walk steadily into the life to come, with a confidence and thankfulness and expectation of glory.
  • We are freed up from trying to preserve our lives at all cost – to acts of loving self-sacrifice, a pouring out of our lives for God and for one another. Whoever gives up his life, for my sake, says Jesus, will find it.

2  How do Christians experience the Resurrection life?  How can we affirm that Christ is risen indeed?

To affirm Jesus’ Resurrection is not just wishful thinking, even though that is how it began for those disciples on that first evening, and may be the way it begins for us.  But Jesus then appeared to the disciples on different occasions and in different ways for 40 days, and by that time, when he departed from them, they did not grieve, but Scripture says they went back to Jerusalem rejoicing, trusting his promise to pour out His Spirit.

As a priest I’ve had the opportunity to hear the experiences of many Christians over the past twenty years that have led them to believe in the presence of the risen Christ.  And I too have experienced His risen presence – through witnessing miracles, some small and hidden, meant to be understood only by me, some very plain, when I needed a stronger nudging to get me going again.  The living God, encounters us, engages us also through visions and dreams, through the experience of a guiding hand through rough waters, through the experience of being brought up out of a pit that we could not possibly have come out of on our own.  The living God, brings about real change in hearts, in the moral life, an abrupt transformation, strengthening wills, giving new insight, wisdom and power that could only come from above.

3 How can we experience Jesus’ Resurrection more?

St Paul speaks of two deaths, in our reading from Colossians [3:1-7], that we must participate in if we are to be raised with Him.

i) The first death is Christ’s death – and to participate in His death we need do nothing. It has all been accomplished by Him.

Do you remember at the Red Sea, when Moses told the people, “you only need to stand still to see the salvation of God,” so in our baptism, whether as an infant, a child, like Melina, or as an adult, it is fully God’s action.  We need only submit ourselves to His command – to be still and to allow the waters of baptism to wash us outwardly, while His Spirit cleanses us inwardly, and indwells us.  By this act we are incorporated into the death of Christ and made living members of His Risen mystical real body.

Paul says, “Do you not know that you are members of Christ?…whoever is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.” [1 Cor 6] And we are not united to a dead Saviour but to the living God.  Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and he says ‘Because I live, you shall live also.’”

So our Resurrection depends on our incorporation into Christ.  And this first happens through our Baptism and faith, as it happened last night for Melina Cecilia Macnaughton last night!

But our experience of Resurrection to new life also depends on our persevering in that union, and when we fail, to quickly return to God’s embrace.

ii) This is the second death. In this death, made possible by the Holy Spirit, we take an active role.  Put to death what is earthly in you… says St Paul.  And Paul describes here, as he does in every letter he wrote, the disordered passions of the soul that must be put away.  If we are full of pride, we will not experience the resurrection life, we will not even be looking for His Spirit moving in us and in others around us.  If we are satisfying ourselves in earthly pleasures alone, we will not come to know the divine pleasures – every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes from the Father of lights…  So, says St Paul, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above…  And that leads us to see our neighbour in a whole new light.

Because Jesus is risen from the dead, the Sacraments that he instituted have resurrection power: the waters of baptism cleanse, unite us to the risen Jesus, and bring new life in His Spirit; and the bread and wine of the Holy Communion, are charged with life.

Let us prepare ourselves now, by confessing our sins, and trusting in Jesus’ self-offering.  And he promises to cleanse us of what destroys, to strengthen our weak wills against temptation, and to fill us with His Spirit: His Love, His Resurrected Life!  Jesus says to us, his bride, the Church…

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
[Song of Songs 2]

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,
therefore let us keep the feast!

Amen +