There’s a wonderful line towards the end of Richard Holloway’s book Leaving Alexandria where he complains of feeling “glutted with the verbal promiscuity of religion… the absolute confidence with which it talked about what was beyond our knowing” (P.335). I know how he feels, and maybe especially on Easter Sunday when we come to talking about the resurrection. I wonder how we might rather think about seeing or hearing the resurrected Jesus?
In one of my favourite books, Nicholas Lash’s University Sermons, he lists the things that resurrection does NOT mean:
The resurrection does not mean that Jesus came back to life- his life ended on Good Friday between two thieves. That was the end.
Secondly, God raising Jesus from the dead does not mean that he continues to live on in our memory – obviously he does live in our memory but the resurrection is not an assertion about me, but an assertion about him – he was raised from the dead.
Jesus is raised by God to another life, untouchable by time and change (P.111).
Pope Benedict writes that the resurrection is not an over coming of clinical death (Journey to Easter p.129) –The Bible often talks of the resurrected Jesus as ‘appearing’, or to put it more clearly, Jesus made himself seen. The resurrected Jesus “belongs to a sphere of reality which is normally withdrawn from our senses… he no longer belongs to the world perceptible to the senses, but to the world of God” (P.129).
To see the post resurrection Jesus is to see with “the heart, the spirit, the whole inward person”. Benedict goes on to say, rather starkly, Jesus does not live like a “reanimated corpse, but in virtue of Divine Power”(P.130)
The appearances of Jesus are not the resurrection, but merely a reflection of it. The true mystery of the resurrection is inseparable from the Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost – the Fifty days, are all the days of Easter. Easter can only be understood with Ascension and Whitsun – the return to the Father and the gift of the Spirit. And we can only see Jesus, only hear his voice when we have opened ourselves up to the Spirit.
We can’t go back, with those first disciples, and witness the resurrection, but we are, in the power of the Spirit, caught up in being an Easter people – people transformed by the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
But our transformation doesn’t make death any less frightening or the darkness any less black. We often find we are saying alleluia through gritted teeth but it is no less powerful for that. The resurrection means we can confront all our dying (Lash again!), over years and in so many parts of our lives with continued trust in the goodness of God.
In todays Gospel Mary doesn’t at first recognise Jesus, and when she does he tells her not to touch him. When Aristotle writes about tragic drama he uses the term ‘recognition’ to refer to the moment when one character recognises the true identity of another and sees their true significance (Passionate Christianity Cally Hammond p.59). The criminal Dismas recognises Christ on the cross and is rewarded with the words: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’. Thomas during one of the resurrection appearances places his hand in Jesus’ side and confesses Jesus ‘My Lord and my God’. Mary’s moment of recognition comes when Jesus calls her name, and she responds Rabbouni which means teacher.
Cally Hammond in her book on the passion writes “We cannot earn our salvation by good works; but we can co-operate in our salvation, by accepting and responding to moments of ‘recognition’, learning to see the Lord of Glory for what he really is” (P. 61).
Increasingly we need to accept the vocation to recognition, leaving behind the ‘verbal promiscuity’ of so much religious talk and instead, opening the eyes of our hearts to the vision of the risen Christ. So that in all our living and our dying we trust and pray.
The darkness is no less black, and the resurrection itself no less mystery. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold onto me because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20.17-18).