I was told a few days ago of a parish that did a rather interesting thing last Sunday evening. They set themselves up as a sort of `jury` and then spent some time sorting through the evidence for and against the Resurrection of Christ. Fascinating and rather good fun I thought. Of course I joked with the person who told me that I hope they came up with the right answer!
And this is typical of one of the ways people approach this matter of resurrection. It`s the path of `analysis`. That is, we look at the empty tomb- the resurrection appearances- and the prospect that it`s true leads to some pretty clear conclusions:
It`s a vindication of Christ- he is who he claims to be.
It`s a Victory over evil, sin and death – remember those words from the Cross- `it is accomplished`
And it`s the foundation of our hope of life eternal.- he is the first to be raised, and so on.
And this is all well and good. But if you`ll pardon me- it`s all about Jesus- which is fine –except that in so far as it`s about US- it`s about what happens when we die. And this seems to jar a little with some of the other stuff we hear in the New Testament
Because my sense is that the New Testament gives us a much broader picture. Resurrection is not just about Jesus- the consequences for Us are much more profound as well.
Let me explain: When we were discussing this a Christianity Explored a few weeks ago we saw an extract from Zeffirelli`s production of Jesus of Nazereth in which one of the Pharisees enters the empty tomb and on seeing the grave clothes he whispers `Now it all begins`…
What I`m trying to suggest is that the New Testament offers us far more than the bare `facts` of resurrection it seems to tell us (as Zeffirelli clearly understood) that something has been set in motion -and this is illustrated by the changed lives of the disciples.
So we could think of the movement they made
From despair to hope;
From fear to huge courage
From cowering behind closed doors to the boldness of a world-wide mission
From blindness to God`s presence to excited shouts of `It`s the Lord`.
And it doesn`t stop here. You see we`re being led into appreciating that the truth of resurrection will have the same transforming effect on us as well.
As we say in our worship: “May we who share Christ`s body- live his Risen life”
It`s as we sing in the hymn: “Christ is Risen- WE are Risen”
The point is very clear- but we miss it if we focus purely on the detective work of did it or didn`t it happen in such and such a way.
So what do we look for as some indication that this Risen life is, as it were, becoming part of what we`re about?
Well I think that the resurrection stories themselves give us all the clues we need. In other words, we can look at the experience of the disciples and reflect on parallels we find in our own:
So firstly, as I mentioned a moment ago, if we`re thinking about the experience of change- Well, the movement is from death to life- so how about those times when this has happened to us.
- I think of the experience of Mary- who is told not to `hold on` to Christ. Is it not a resurrection to move beyond possessive, controlling or dependent relationships?
- I think of the experience on the Emmaus road. They said, “did our hearts not burn within us when he opened the scriptures?” Is it not a resurrection to find these words we hear day by day, week by week as somehow meant for US?- and touching our hearts in a profound and deeply moving way?
- I think of the experience of Peter. The risen Lord told the women– “go and tell the disciples AND Peter”. Is it not a resurrection to experience forgiveness?
So maybe the experience of the disciples is not so alien from our own. Maybe we too can point to moments when the resurrection begins to dawn on us.
So that`s the experience of change- but what else?
Well again, if you look at the resurrection accounts they point us towards the experience of not quite `fitting in` anymore.
It seems to me, the experience of meeting the risen Jesus brought home to the disciples the truth that not only would they never be the same again- but they could never really go back.
This is what happened to Peter isn`t it? “I`m going fishing” he said- in his vain attempt to return to life as it was before he met Jesus. He`s out all night- and he and his friends caught nothing. We can only imagine a frustrated and despairing peter saying to himself, “I can`t even do this anymore”- Poor Peter it was HE that was the `fish out of water`. The old life, which had seemed so familiar, safe, the only way to go after the crucifixion, was just not for him anymore.
Christ had done far more than leave them with a few poignant memories- he had worked a profound change in their hearts and lives
They were in a very real sense `in` the world but not `of` it. They didn`t feel they belonged amidst the world`s priorities and preoccupations.
And this is an experience many of us share. I quite often hear people say “I know I`m old fashioned but…” And of course, sometimes they ARE! But sometimes there`s something else behind that remark and my hunch is that often it`s coming from the very same place.
When Christ touches our hearts- there is a change of priorities, values and agenda. Some of us endure mockery because of it. But we can`t keep it in- We know in our heart of hearts that life lived without reference to God is just no life at all. We just wind up saying ¬I don`t want to play this game ay more`.
But our weak spot is the desire to be liked or to be one of the crowd. The fear of being different or of not wanting to be in the minority often stifles our awareness that it is the `risen life` that has taken hold of us.
It`s so much easier to be like the caterpillar who turned to another caterpillar-and said- as they watched a butterfly go past “You`ll never get ME up in one of those!”.
So how do we sense that resurrection is happening to us?
Well, firstly, this experience of change- from death to life, from fear to freedom
And secondly a sense of not quite fitting in.
But thirdly- I would point to an increasing sense that we have to choose.
Christ said to Peter “Do you love me more than these?” He could have been pointing to the other disciples:- “Do you really love me more than them?”
But he may also have been pointing to Peter`s fishing gear. Peter, do you love me more than these career or lifestyle ambitions you have?
The writer Robert Warren points to the phenomenon of what he calls “bolt-on” spirituality. He is pointing out how tempting it can be to cultivate a `religious` part of our life in much the same was as we build a rather attractive but pre-fabricated conservatory onto a more solidly built house.
And he contrasts this with the way Christ rather pointedly tells us to make him the `foundation` of our lives.
He persists in saying challenging things like, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also”
And, “You cannot serve Two masters”
And “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction”.
To hear these words spoken to us is to experience resurrection. Because here we find ourselves confronted by a different way. A better way of being a human being. We won`t always get it right. But this is not about being scrupulous or over-zealous- it means that when Christ touches your heart you will come to see where the battle-lines are drawn between His Kingdom and the disobedience of the world. We have to choose. We find ourselves living with this tension- something coming to birth.
Resurrection is not just what happened to Christ- it`s what happens to us as well. And it begins in the here and now. The experience of the disciples as we see them in the Gospels gives us clues as to how we can detect the signs of it in our everyday experience.
It often seems a bit easier to spot the marks of Christ`s Passion in our lives- these can be quite painful and all too obvious. We may know only too well what it means to cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
But I want to invite you to become more adept at spotting the signs of His Resurrection in your life. Perhaps we can begin by looking at signs of change- from death to life. For moments when we feel that we don`t quite `fit in`- and moments when we are called to choose. All of these can be indicators that for us as well- now it all begins…..