Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

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Lent and Easter

They discussed what rising from the dead could mean

  

Transfiguration Raphael.jpg

 

 

As they came down from the mountain, following the experience of the transfiguration, Jesus told Peter, James and John to tell no one what they had seen, until after he had risen from the dead. The gospel tells us that "they observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what 'rising from the dead' could mean". They simply could not help themselves: what was the Master talking about? why the talk about dying? and anyway, once dead, who can rise again? and if someone were to 'rise from the dead' what sort of life would that be?

Their questions were endless and they would not be able to appreciate what Jesus had said until after he had in fact risen. By then they had witnessed his death. They had felt the desolation of defeat. And then they had experienced the wonder of his resurrection. So, what did it all mean? What does it mean for us today?

First we need to remember what we hear about the mission of Jesus. He had come to announce that the Reign of God's love has come. He urged people to accept that they are loved by God, and in response to love God and each other. And he taught, not only in words, but by his example. He lived a life of full of love, without compromise - even at the risk of sometimes giving scandal to his own followers and friends - and even in the face of opposition from leaders both spiritual and temporal.

The life of Jesus was shaped by the Law of Love rather than by love of law. But that brought him a lot of enemies. As he continued to do as love dictated, so the opposition grew, and with it the determination to do away with him. Right to the moment of his death, this deliberate attitude of love still remained active in Jesus - in his prayer of forgiveness for his executioners, in his concern for Mary his Mother, in his consolation for the repentant thief. At the very end, even though God appeared to have abandoned him, he could still push himself in faith to exclaim with his dying breath "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".

He died a criminal's death. He died with fearful pain and humiliating rejection. He was taunted for his trust in God. What price, now, his trust in the Father's power and love? What use, now, his message of so-called Good News? What sort of message is this, a broken man, dead, on a cross? What an end to a seemingly good life!

But it did not end there! As Peter proclaimed to the people in Jerusalem: "You killed this man, but God has raised him to life". Now what does that mean - "God has raised him to life"? What are we saying when we proclaim: "Christ has died; Christ is risen"? What is this resurrection of Jesus? Perhaps, first, we can say what it is not. It does not just mean that Jesus has come back to life, like Lazarus, or the daughter of Jairus, or the the widow's son at Nain. Nor was it simply the final and greatest display of divine power to convince people once and for all of the claims of Jesus.

He is Risen. It means that God has raised Jesus to new life - to a new state, to a new risen-ness, a state of sharing perfectly, completely, and manifestly in the life of God. Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, was a human being, utterly like us in every way but sin. St. Paul says that "for our sakes God made the sinless one into sin", because he had become so totally at one with us. Now this same Jesus of Nazareth died under Pontius Pilate, and was raised by God to newness of life. In the person of Jesus, a human being has entered into the fullness of glory. One of us is now completely, utterly, totally and everlastingly with God. He shared our humanity and now he takes our humanity to share in his own divinity.

The resurrection does not cancel out the cross. It is the fruit of the cross, the fruit of the self-offering of Jesus. His death on the cross was the passage to new life. In the fourth Gospel, St. John describes it as a Passing-over from a world of sin and mortality to a life of glory and immortality. John sees the death/resurrection of Jesus as echoing the Passover of the Jews. They passed over from slavery in Egypt to freedom as God's People in the Promised Land. So, now, Jesus has passed over from a world of sin to a world of life. And in that new Passover he has brought about a new Covenant, a new relationship with God for the whole of humanity.

What has happened in him, has happened in him for all of us. Through Jesus Christ all human beings now have access to God. He has opened up for us the Way to God. Indeed, he is the Way. He is risen. He is lifted up above all the limitations of time and place to which, in his life on earth, he had been subjected. He is now Risen Lord, and in that risen-ness he is with each one of us, longing for us to be at one with him. He invites us to share in his own risen life, his own divine life.

In Baptism we accepted that new life to be our own. We shared sacramentally in our Lord's own death to sin and his resurrection to new life. At Easter we will celebrate and rejoice in the resurrection of Christ, and have the chance to renew our personal welcome and acceptance of the new life he has given us already in our baptism. It is for this that the season of Lent is preparing us.