Today's Gospel gives us an account of one of
the resurrection appearances of Jesus: "The same day at evening, being the
first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were
assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and
saith unto them, Peace be unto you." St. Luke tells us, in his
parallel account, that "they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed
that they had seen a ghost."
The Gospel account make it very clear that for
the followers of Jesus, his resurrection was something quite incredible, and
even terrifying. Occupied with mourning his shameful crucifixion,
trying to assimilate that tragedy, trying to accept the bitter end of all
their cherished hopes, they had no eyes to see his resurrection. St.
Mary Magdalene, at the sepulchre, mistook him for the gardener, until he
spoke her name. Two disciples walked and talked with him on the road
to Emmaus, and did not recognize him until he blessed the bread for their
evening meal. St. Thomas refused to believe until he could actually
see and touch the wounds of Christ.
In spite of all that Jesus had told them
beforehand about his death and resurrection, the fact was simply too
astounding to be grasped immediately. They supposed they knew the limits of
the possible, and this seemed to be utterly outside the bounds of
possibility. They had to be shown the reality of his sacred wounds:
"He showed unto them his hands and his side."
But their incredulity should not surprise us:
after all, the resurrection was for them as indeed it is for us, something
completely outside the bounds of our imagination--a reality accessible to
faith, certainly, but not something we can really picture in our minds. We
can imagine the resuscitation of a dead body--the raising of Lazarus, for
instance; or the widow's son at Nain--we can imagine that. But that is
not resurrection. Resurrection is not the revivifying of a body, to continue
as before. Resurrection means the spiritual transformation of the
flesh, to be the clear and translucent expression of the spirit. It
means life of an altogether different quality, on an altogether different
level, and we can't imagine that. It's outside our experience.
Imagination and common sense rebel before the
thought of resurrection. "How are the dead raised up, and with what body do
they come?" "A foolish question", says St. Paul. Just consider, he
says, the astonishing transformations which go on in God's creation every
day. Just think, for instance, what happens when you plant a seed -
perhaps a grain of wheat, or of some other grain - the seed decays, but from
that seed appears a plant unimaginably different from the tiny seed you
planted. "God giveth it a body, as it hath pleased him, and to each
seed its own body". "So also", says St. Paul, "is the resurrection of
the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption... it is
sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body".
The world of nature, with its cycles of decay
and rebirth, offers many parables of resurrection: but only parables:
resurrection means a kind of transformation which is utterly beyond the
processes of nature, a reconciliation of flesh and spirit, a redemption of
our whole humanity which is final and complete. No imagination, but
only faith, can grasp that God, who brings all things from nothing in
creation, brings life from death, and glory from corruption. And only
the fact of Jesus' resurrection, and faith in his promises, can establish
the ground of this hope in us. As St. John says, in today's Epistle,
"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself... and this
is the witness, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in
"He showed unto them his hands and his side.
Then said Jesus unto them again, Peace be unto you: As my Father hath sent
me, even so send I you". His hands and side, his sacred wounds, are
the signs of his own reconciling sacrifice, which overcomes our enmity with
God; which makes our peace with God, with one another, and even with
ourselves: "Peace be unto you".
"As my Father hath sent me, even so send I
you". Those disciples who witness to Jesus' death and resurrection are
thus commissioned to be witnesses to his judgement and his charity:
"Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye
retain, they are retained".
Judgement and charity -- the justice and the
mercy of Almighty God, manifest in our Saviour's death and resurrection --
these are to be the marks of new life in us, the Church, here and now. We
are sent by the Word of God, and that word is our commission. We are not to
be overcome by this world, conformed to its passing judgements, its fads and
fantasies, the ambitions of the present age: we have a more sure word of
prophecy; we have a victory which overcomes the world, even our faith.
We have this witness in ourselves, for the seed
of Jesus' resurrection is sown in our own hearts. Let that precious seed be
nurtured there, nourished by word and sacrament, preserving soul and body
unto life eternal.
O Lord of all, with us abide
In this our joyful Eastertide
From every weapon death can
Thine own redeemed for ever