In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“When they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24.3) “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15.20)
Today is the memory of an event, the re-presentation of an event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Two thousand years ago, in a tomb hollowed out of the rock of a hillside outside Jerusalem, Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive and reigns forever at the right-hand of Power.
When the myrrh-bearing women went to the tomb around dawn on the first day of the week, they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty; and they found themselves in the company of angels who asked them a question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24.5) This is a question we might well ask ourselves. Why do we seek the living among the dead?
It is fitting that the resurrection of Jesus should have taken place in the secret anonymity of the tomb, a place of darkness, without witnesses, the place where we hide from ourselves the victims of the violence out of which we construct our personal and social histories and our self-determination.
The resurrection of Jesus does not belong to the domain of history. As with his conception in the dark silence of Mary’s womb, sealed by her virginity, so too now his resurrection in the darkness and silence of the tomb sealed by a stone, heaven and earth are joined and man is reconciled to God. We must not say, as some do, that because the resurrection of Jesus is properly ahistorical that it therefore did not happen, that this story is an invention meant to give life meaning, or to give credence to a new ideology. The resurrection is an eternal event, localized historically, taking place in darkness, silence, and anonymity, but now the wellspring of all shape, all wholeness, all light and life.
As Hans Urs von Balthasar has said, “as if weariness… and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it – in the beginning – also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?”
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
Christ is risen from the dead, and we must find a new place in our hearts, in our lives, for the story of his resurrection. The motto of our diocese is “We are resurrection people” – which has always sounded trite to me, but which must now be true. We must find a place for this truth within us; we must appropriate it by faith. We ARE resurrection people.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, who by his own admission, tried and failed to believe the resurrection, said: “Christianity is not based on a historical truth; rather, it offers us a (historical) narrative and says: now believe! But not, believe this narrative with the belief appropriate to a historical narrative, rather: believe, through thick and thin, which you can do only as the result of a LIFE. Here you have a narrative, don’t take the same attitude to it as you take to other historical narratives! Make a quite different place in your life for it.” (“Culture and Value” p. 33) I realize that this point is prone to misunderstanding, so let me be clear: Jesus rose from the dead. He was murdered; his body was placed in a tomb; and on the morning of the third day, the tomb was empty; not because his body had been stolen, but because Jesus, in the flesh, rose from the dead.
Let us not forget that this was the confession around which the earliest Christians organized themselves and recognized one another, and that it remains so to the present day. Christ is raised from the dead. Every one of the apostles (except one, who died of old age) chose to be tortured and murdered rather than deny this claim.
Christ is raised from the dead. But we cannot hear this with the same attitude we bring to our listening to the daily news on CNN. We cannot read this story like we read a newspaper. If we do, and if it matters to us, we will either become fundamentalists, or kibitzing heretics. This is not that kind of story. We must “make a quite different place in [our lives] for it.”
Christ has been raised from the dead. How then are we to receive this news? It must be planted, like a seed, in our hearts, in our lives, there to be nourished and watered until it springs up within us, bearing the fruits of divine life, until we become merciful, loving, witnesses of peace, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. And if it is to be planted in our hearts, that means that we must till the soil of our hearts; we must cleanse and purify ourselves. If the seed of divine life is to grow within us and bear fruit, we must confess our sins.
Let us remind ourselves of the reality of what we are here to remember. Christ has been raised from the dead. He was dead, but he is now alive forever. What DOES this mean for us? What does it mean for YOU?
When the risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the upper room, when Thomas was not there, they later said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” It is in the light of the resurrection that the IDENTITY of Jesus becomes manifest to those who have followed him. He is the Christ, the One long-awaited by the people of God, the anointed; he is the Son of God. He is the Lord.
When the earliest disciples called Jesus “the Lord” in the light of Easter morning, they were making a bold claim. They were using the same word for this man that the Old Testament had used for the one God, who created the heavens and the earth. Well, therefore, is he confessed as Lord in the light of the resurrection, when the fruit of his death springs up from the earth, on the eighth day, after the Sabbath-rest of God, when (now) the creation is at last complete, and God has been joined to man in an indissoluble union of flesh.
The Lord is risen indeed. And we must make a new place for this news, for this risen life, within ourselves. It must make a difference to us. He must not simply be “God” or “the Paragon”, or the “great teacher”, but he must be “MY Lord and MY God” (John 20.28). Being his disciple must no longer be a cultural association, for his death and resurrection have destroyed the very possibility of self-determination, of inventing for ourselves new histories out of our striving. If he is to be MY Lord, that means that his story must become MY story; my origin and my destination must be in him; my fulfillment, my joy, my peace, and the object of all my desiring must be in him; the shape and direction of my life – the WAY that I live – must be centered and formed by him, with him, in him, and for him.
Von Balthasar said, “In the future, all shape must arise out of [the] gaping void [of his tomb], all wholeness must draw its strength from [his] creating wounds.” From the scars in his hands and feet and side, which have become tokens of the victory Jesus has won once and for all, two thousand years ago. But that same victory must now take place WITHIN ME. Christ must conquer me if I am to belong to him.
Either he will be my Lord, either I will belong to him and live for him, or I will belong to the grave over which he has triumphed, to the old world destined for judgment, under bondage, a fugitive slave of the gods of Egypt, forever lost among the dead.
The Lord is risen indeed. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Do not approach the resurrection of Christ as you approach other events of the past. Make an entirely different place for it in your life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.