Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today, we proclaim that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead!
We can say it with our mouths, and we may know an accompanying joy in our hearts, a longing within us that feels affirmed. But what does the Resurrection of Jesus mean and what does it mean for us?
What is the Resurrection?
The hope of a life to come, of a rebirth after death, this has been apparent since the foundation of the world itself through the gift of seasons – especially the further from the equator you go – rebirth is showing itself most powerfully outside today – everything that appeared dead exploding with new life!
And it is not surprising that this theme of rebirth after death shows itself in ancient mythologies around the world, East and West – the idea is not unique to Christianity. It is a universal longing for those who love life. The Phoenix in the Harry Potter series, which appears just when it should, is from this ancient longing for renewal of our lives after a death in flames.
It is not surprising that this longing is also found in the Old Testament writers.
We began our mini candlelit vigil Saturday night with only 3 of the 21 possible readings from the Old Testament that Common Worship recommends. (I’m not sure that our candles would have lasted to the end!)
The Creation account itself – the first chapter of the Bible – suggests by its author a longing for a perfect world reflecting God’s glory, a paradise untroubled by concerns about climate change or burning cathedrals or unwanted loss of health. That vision expresses a longing for restoration some day – to be once again perfectly restored to the image and likeness of God, and able to enter into God’s rest. That vision is, a type of Resurrection longing.
The story of the Passover in Exodus describes a kind of Resurrection hope. God giving His people a way of guiding the destroying angel to pass over them rather than taking their firstborn. Lamb’s blood was put on the door frame by the faithful in the sign of the Cross, or maybe the Trinity, and death passes by, and the Israelites begin their journey from tyranny to freedom.
The story of the Crossing of the Red Sea – was a movement from certain death at the hands of Pharaoh’s army, through the Red Sea waters, to freedom and life beyond his reaches. It has been seen as a kind of Resurrection, passing through the unknown waters of death to emerge victorious with all enemies drowned in the returning waters. We mirror something of this image of death and resurrection when we are drowned in the waters of baptism and rise up regenerated in Christ. [Romans 6:4; Col 2:12]
Those are the stories we read. But we could also have read of the restoration of Noah and the creation from death through the Flood [Gen 6-9]. Or of Abraham who receives back his son Issac from death through the provision of sacrifice from God [Gen 22; Heb 11:19]. We could have read of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel’s vision [Ezek 37:1-14], or the saving of Daniel from the lion’s den [Dan 6], or the spitting out of Jonah from the mouth of the whale, or the visions of restored creation in Isaiah [54:5-15; 55:1-11], Jeremiah [31:31-34], Ezekiel  and Zephaniah [3:14-end]. Or we could have read of Job [19:26], who despite his extreme sufferings, dares to have this hope: to see God in the land of the living in his restored flesh.
All these stories in the Old Testament are intimations of the Resurrection, but very faint compared with the reality the disciples encountered when they met our risen Lord. None of them expected it, says St John, in today’s Gospel [St John 20:1-10], despite the many preparations that Jesus had given them by his words. Words they only understood later.
- Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. [Jn 2:19]
- Only the sign of Jonah will be given… Just as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and nights in the heart of the earth. [Mt 12:39-40]
- Or more plainly to his disciples, more than once,“The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” [e.g. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34]
Mary Magdelene first saw the empty tomb, and could not believe it until our Lord called her name. When she told the disciples, John and Peter ran to the tomb early that first morning… John says it was only when he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself, only thenthat the hope they were supposed to have had in the Resurrection was finally ignited into a flame. Every little detail of those first moments was important to the Apostles because it was all so strange. Jesus said to them later that day, “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” For us, spirit and flesh are opposed to one another – but in the Resurrection, as one preacher has described it, “the strife of spirit and flesh is ended and the body becomes the clear and translucent expression of spirit.” Resurrection “is not survival [after death] but transformation.” [see the Fr Robert Crouse, Sermon for Easter 1988]
The Greeks believed in the survival of the soul after death, but when Paul preached to them the Resurrection of the body in Athens, he was mocked. [Acts 17:32]
The witness of the Apostles is that Jesus rose from the dead in a bodilyresurrection. And Matthew writes that after Jesus rose from the dead, many bodies– not many spirits – but many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. [Mt 27:52-53] Jesus’ resurrection is not for him alone but is what we can expect and hope for as his followers.
How can we be raised up at the last day?
Jesus tells us plainly. He says:
- This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. [Jn 6:40]
and a little later…
- Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. [John 6:54]
Faith and the sacraments, by which we are joined with Christ – Baptism, Holy Communion – are the ways to receive the promised Resurrection for ourselves. And this is part of our joy today. We can rest and be reassured about the next step after our life on earth, and it is somewhat freeing – of course this profound promise needs to take deep root in us!
But what about this life? Can we know the Resurrection even now?
Well we know there is a kind of psychological lesson here…
We know that to undergo any kind of transformation in this life – growing up, or continuing to mature – requires a kind of death before a resurrection. St Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” [1 Cor 13:11] To give up childish ways is to die to them, that we might rise to the new more mature way of seeing things. A too small vision of God must die or it becomes an idol, easily cast away. A too small vision of Church must die or we become dissatisfied with any local manifestation of it, and walk away. If I have a friend who is not really a friend, I must die to that friendship and find one that is true. If I am pursuing goals that are worthless or even destructive, I must die to them and set new goals. Death before any resurrection.
But this is not solely a Christian insight – it is what all of those ancient myths of resurrection point to. And everyone knows this at some level.
But what would be a specifically Christian psychological take on death and resurrection now? It would involve the specific shape of the resurrection life.
We can think about the promised Resurrection body. What might that be and can we begin to know it even now? The New Testament says yes! This is the focus of all of the moral guidance given in the New Testament – the transforming of our desires, our loves, that our bodies might be conformed to Christ’s body, where “the strife of spirit and flesh is ended and the body becomes the clear and translucent expression of spirit,” as that preacher said. Paul says, we await… Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. [Philippians 3:20-21] That’s not about its shape but its power and qualities – our every motivation inwardly and every action outwardly is pure and holy love.
In today’s Epistle [Colossians 3:1-7], Paul speaks of the resurrection as something we are already participating in. He says, you have been raised with Christ [past tense – because through baptism and faith we are joined with the risen Lord]. You have been raised with Christ… so set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Death and resurrection. If we have faith, we have already died, in the sense of no longer trying to define our lives and purposes for ourselves. Our purpose is no longer “my will be done”, but thy will be done, in earth (in my heart, in my body) as it is in heaven. If you lose your life for my sake, says Jesus, you will find it [e.g. Matthew 16:25] – death leads to resurrection.
The ongoing call in the New Testament is to Put to death therefore what is earthly in you – and Paul lists some main vices that he and all the Apostles always list as dead ends, as the ends of the old Adam, the old outer husk of the seed, that must be cast off in order for the new life in Christ to emerge and flourish [e.g. Rom 1:29-31; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 4:17-6 end; Col 2:10-3end; James 3:13-5:12; 1 Pet 2:11-4:19; 2 Pet 2-3]. Not easy at all, Paul describes it even as a crucifixion [e.g. He says, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires… Gal 5:24]. Beth reminded me recently of the Narnia Chronicles The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – of Eustice, who’d become a dragon, and Aslan with his claw, rips through the dragon skin that he might emerge smaller than he was before, but renewed [see the quotation below this sermon], a figure of death and resurrection.
Our Easter Collect for today, seems so restrained in its request, but so complete if we think about it. We pray that, As by your special grace you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring the same to good effect.
How is that about Easter? We believe if we are baptised that the Holy Spirit is continually giving us good desires within, but the old Adam is also there with his desires. And if we simply follow the good desires, by grace, over time, we will experience the conforming of our lowly body to Christ’s glorious body – that is to know more and more of the Resurrection body even now.
The promise of the resurrection in the life to come is sure for us by the free gift of God through faith and the sacraments. But do you see that, how much you experience the resurrection now is partly in your hands by your inward choices moment to moment – discerning the good desires, dying to evil desires, and following what is good?
Today we celebrate that Christ has gone before us – through the gates of death and has risen. He promises to draw us with him, and that drawing into the resurrection life can begin to happen even now.
Let us prepare ourselves to partake of the risen Christ – to eat the bread and drink the wine, or as Jesus says, to eat my flesh and to drink my blood that you may have eternal life and be raised up [now and] on the last day. [John 6:54]
Excerpt from Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis…
“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”