Easter Sunday

March 31, 2002
See Also: 
Reading 2: 
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Reading 3: 
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
Reading 4: 
Matthew 28:1-10
By Keith McPaul

This short section gives us an important insight into how the early Christians perceived the resurrection. In Romans 8, Galatians 2, John 14, and in Colossians 3, we see their conviction that Christ was a life-giving presence, the spirit indwelling in those who had never 'seen the Lord', let alone viewed the empty tomb. The new community 'was' in Christ because Christ 'was' in them.
The lesson of Romans 6, which is read during the Easter Vigil, is that by baptism the Christian is 'plunged' into Christ's death and so shares his life: we have died with Christ and will share his resurrection. The letter to the Colossians develops the awareness that the Christian already shares in Christ's resurrection. The Christian shares the divine life and is transformed by it. Our old life was 'earthly'; our new life is 'heavenly', and our future will be 'revealed', or directed by God. This new 'self' represents a new creation, in which the creator's image is being restored. In verse 3:11, the author stresses the centrality of Christ to their experience of the 'new creation', "Christ is all and in all." Divisions between races, religions, and social groups have been overcome in Christ; this is in part what it means to be reconciled in him. The Colossian community had to work out how they were to live in this new creation. Each generation, in its own time and place, has to own the resurrection story and must attempt to articulate and live the vision of the risen Christ that it gives, informed by the past, but not bound by it.

There are so many themes in the interesting narrative detail in today's readings, and because they are so familiar we can sometimes overlook them. There are the differences and similarities between the readings of John and Matthew; there are the earthquakes and other 'acts of God' found in both the crucifixion and the resurrection stories; the use of an 'angel of the Lord' to announce the key times in the life of Jesus; the incarnation, baptism, and resurrection of the 'Son of God'. If we are trying to work out the 'form' of the risen Jesus, the two Gospels give conflicting reports as to his 'solidarity'. John links the resurrection with the 'ascension', or relationship with "the Father", Matthew does not. Paul and John closely associate the raised Christ and Spirit. We also see the use of women as the principal observers and messengers at both the crucifixion and the resurrection where once again the conventions of the day are broken when one of the central messages of the Gospel is conveyed in a most unexpected way. There are also a number of themes that have special process implications such as the continuity of the revelation of God through the risen Jesus, and the concept of judgment and salvation.

All the speeches in Acts have the same pattern; witness to Jesus' baptism, his ministry in Galilee, and ending with his death and resurrection to new life being testified by certain reputable witnesses. The first witness to the resurrection is founded not so much on the negative evidence of the 'empty tomb', but on the evidence of risen life. As Kenneth Grayston says, "The two women are convinced not by an empty tomb, nor the angels, not even by an appearance of Jesus - but by his living words." In the Gospel reports there was an initial doubt as to whether it was the risen Jesus whom they encountered. But finally we are assured that it was the same Jesus of Nazareth that they met, the one that was crucified by lawless men that God has raised from the dead. There is an emphasis on the continuity of the before and after Easter Jesus; the Jesus they knew in life is the same Christ they now see raised from the dead. The New Testament witness indicates that Jesus was first recognized by those who had known him previously or by those who, like Paul, had received information concerning Jesus through contact with the 'living memory' of the early Christian community. Thereafter, "faith comes through hearing" in the sense that the proclamation of the kerugma both alerts and equips the hearer to perceive the spirit of the living Christ. Paul says in Romans that it is not possible to recognize and believe in one of whom they have never heard.

Mary said, "I have seen the Lord." In answer to Thomas' disbelief, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet come to believe." The question of the identity of the one known as the Christ of faith with the one remembered as the historical Jesus is as important for us today as it was for the first disciples. All the readings claim that the raised Christ was not just a restored Jesus but Jesus The Lord. The raised Jesus was revealed rather than just inspected or viewed, and revealed in some transformed, and glorious mode, so as to allow him to be experienced as God.

The result of this transforming judgment is the final reconciliation of all things in the depths of God. In God Christ Church, Marjorie Suchocki says that the resurrection event is far more than a mere historical account of what happened to Jesus. "Rather, the whole complex of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is like a mighty metaphor, leading us to deeper understandings of God and God's ways with us." "In Christ, we see God for us, and the revelation culminates in the resurrection." In the meeting with 'doubting Thomas', the scars belong to the pre-resurrection existence, yet they are also present in the resurrection. There is continuity with the pain of the past in the resurrection life. "The resurrection power of God does not annihilate the past, it transforms the past." God feels the world precisely as the world feels itself. God's feeling of the world can be crucifixion; God's transformation of the world is resurrection.

Throughout his ministry Jesus indicated that salvation would become available to the whole world. After initially misunderstanding what Jesus meant, Peter now says that he fully understands that God shows no partiality. The mission to the gentiles was instigated by God and is now to be carried on by the believers. The risen Christ is seen as having the power of God to judge all the living and the dead. The end of Peter's speech shows that it is an odd sort of judgment; it is a judgment of forgiveness and not of condemnation. The risen Lord accepts the self-judgment of sinfulness and exercises the divine power of forgiveness.

In Acts 4, Peter says that this Jesus "whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead." "Their own victim was back!" says peter Carnley. In most mythology the 'victim' returns in order to haunt their persecutors, and to gain vengeance. Jesus' return from the grave was announced with gladness, as good news and the one that they had persecuted was back, not to seek vengeance or revenge, but with the offer of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus offered forgiveness and life to those with blood on their hands. Such is the nature of the love we call divine. Jesus' reappearance was not just 'a conjuring trick with bones', but was the appearance of the bearer of salvation in the concrete form of acceptance and forgiveness, even for those who had wronged him. Luke teaches us that only through the living victim that salvation can come to those with blood on their hands. "Only a living victim, restored and vindicated can be the bearer of forgiveness and acceptance of that unconditional and utterly unqualified kind that we call divine." One of the universal truths of the Easter story is that we too can share in this salvation, liberation and relief when we forgive those whom we have made victims. Whom have we made victims? We have made victims of all those we judge and put unfairly into categories, such as asylum seekers, homosexuals, terrorists, even those we choose to ignore; I am sure that you can think of more. We need to work for their forgiveness. Have you thought of yourself as a victim? Have people unfairly misjudged you, misrepresented you, put you down, or failed to respect your opinion to the point where you feel alienated, diminished or excluded? It is where our natural tendency might be to lash out that we need to remember that in Christ we can be mediators of the grace and forgiveness of God so that the world around us knows the fresh possibilities of new life. Salvation is expanded when we as the victim forgive.

John Cobb Jr says that we Christians do not have a clear idea of what we mean by 'being saved'. "In picturing a saved world we can begin with images that come to us direct from the ministry of Jesus. It is a world in which all sins are forgiven; all diseases, healed; all the hungry, fed; all prisoners, freed; all the lonely, visited." Salvation will include regeneration and care for the environment. But primarily it will be fed by the fullness of love.

Through the love of God we can share the good news of the Basileia, the kingdom of God on earth. To do this we must first believe that God is working towards just such an end. Is this what Paul and Luke mean when they talk of 'believing in Jesus'? We are to believe that, in Jesus, God is present to us. The disciples experienced the presence of Jesus directly, but they were forever misinterpreting the reality of the message. Today our theological language still does not allow us to fully unpack the meaning of the Easter faith for the continuing life of the Church in worship and mission, but we must attempt to describe the structure of this faith and what it means to us. Thus, various images and models of the resurrection will be needed, each with its own approach and each with its own limitations. We need to keep a balance between the 'historical story' and the 'eschatological' or 'heavenly' event. By trying to hold these antithetical approaches in balance we see that each goes some way towards reducing the Easter mystery to a measure of comprehension by illuminating a different aspect of it. The Reality of Easter transcends them all.

"This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Christ is risen,
He is risen, indeed."

In reading about death and eternal life, I came upon this interesting poem by an Indian Poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore.

Nor do I know death. Today at times
I'm shivering with fear of it. When I think
I have to bid adieu to this world, my eyes moisten
and with both arms I try to hang on to life,
calling it mine.

Fool, who had made this life, this
world, unawares to yourself, so much your own,
from the moment of your birth, even before
your own volition? Thus at death's dawn
you'll see once more the face of that unknown
and instantly recognize it. I have loved
my life so dearly that I am convinced
when I meet death, I shall love it just as much.

Removed from one breast, a child cries in alarm,
but given the other breast, is immediately calmed.

(From Naibedya, 1901)