Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Lent and Easter

three days afterwards God raised him to life

 

elgreco resurrection.jpg

 

With all that has happened in the past two days, leading to the gruesome death of Jesus on the cross, and ending in a hurried burial, it would indeed appear that sin and evil have won the day. In the eyes of his executioners he got what he deserved. They knew his behaviour was scandalous and misleading; and his claims were not only false, but blasphemous. He was just another deluded individual who thought he was a prophet, or a messiah. But he was dangerous. The world is better off without him.

Could anyone have imagined a more humiliating end for one who claimed to speak and to act in God's name? Even his closest followers fled, hid themselves behind locked doors for fear of being associated with him. They had hoped ... they had believed ... they had even dared to look forward to all he was going to achieve. And now? Now he is dead - crucified - a scandalous end of one accursed by God. Now a dark shadow blots out everything he had seemed to stand for. Now there is nothing more to hope for. He is finished and all he stood for is finished with him. All they can do now is get back home, to Galilee, to Emmaus or Bethany and try to pick up the pieces of their shattered existence.

If they were shattered by his death, imagine, if you can, the really staggering, shattering impact of what happened next - "three days later God raised him to life". His tomb is empty. "He is not here; he is risen". He makes himself seen - in the garden near to the tomb, on the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, by the shore of the lake in Galilee. Although at first they failed to recognise him, he urges them: "Do not be afraid; it is I". See, he says; look at my hands and my feet. See the wounds of the crucifixion on my body. It is indeed the same Jesus with whom they had walked and talked. It is the same Jesus in whom they had hoped. It is the same Jesus whose death they had witnessed. It is the one they thought was finished.

He is far from finished. He is alive. No, not brought back to life just to pick up again where he had left off three days ago. It is truly the same Jesus; and yet there is something different. The very need for that reassuring "It is I" indicates that there is something profoundly different. These are not appearances of Jesus that can be likened to the 'guess who I bumped into in town' category of encounter. He is the same, yet different; for now he is alive in a new and glorious existence. He has passed over from the life of this world of sin and mortality into the very life of God. He is changed; risen, not into a new lease of life in this world but into the holiness of God. In death he has offered himself as a complete gift of love to his Father. Now he is taken up in the Father's embrace and is glorified in the life-giving power of the Spirit of God.

In the light of the resurrection his crucifixion is no longer a scandal. Executed as a blasphemer, he is now revealed as the innocent victim "led to the slaughter", the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins of all. He is the Saviour of the world. His personal "passion-glorification" is a Passover for the whole of humanity. In the person of Jesus Christ a human being has entered into the glorious, risen and exalted state of new life filled with the fullness of God. In solidarity with him the whole human race passes over into this newness of life. Through him all humans now have access to the Father. He has opened for us the way to God. He is the Way.

By his resurrection Jesus is marked out as the promised Messiah, the chosen of God, the one anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. During his lifetime Jesus avoided this title of Messiah since it had political undertones among the Jews. They were looking for a Messiah who would lead them to armed victory over the occupying enemies, the Romans. In contrast Jesus had preached a message of interior conversion, of love of God and of neighbour, a message of forgiveness and even of love of one's enemies. Not for him to conquer the powers of this world by even greater physical force. He is the humble Servant of God, who remained faithful to God's Way of Love, even to the point of death and who thereby conquered the greater evils of sin and death. Only now, in the light of his resurrection, can it be understood that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, who had to suffer and so enter his glory.

In raising Jesus from the dead God has given the divine seal of approval to everything Jesus has said and done.

-  So, Jesus had been right all along as, for example, when he pardoned sins and defended his power to do so; and when he spoke about God's unconditional love and compassion for each of us.

-  He had been right, also, when he mixed with sinners and ate with them as a sign that God has pardoned them; and in his conviction that forgiveness of one another will always be more life-giving and enriching than revenge.

-  He was right when he criticised the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and their excessive attachment to Law and empty religious ritual; and in his commitment to personal and prayerful relationship with God whom he addressed as "Abba, my Father".

-  He was right when he claimed to declare God's will, going beyond the letter of the Law of Moses to bring it to perfection; right, too, in his demand for special affection for the outcasts of society, and in his refusal to condone discrimination of any kind.

-  Above all he was right when he had proclaimed, despite all external appearances, that the Kingdom of God has broken into the world.

Through his living and his teaching, Jesus inaugurated the Reign of God, a God of infinite love for all his creatures. Also through his living and his teaching, he invited from all a response of total love and absolute trust such as he himself has lived.