Processing the resurrection
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV)
How do you process the resurrection – understand what it means – and more importantly work out how it really affects you?
I suspect poorly when things doesn’t go according to your expectations.
We live with nearly 2,000 years of hearing the news of the resurrection, seeing it in paintings that have accumulated over the centuries, heard it’s echoes in stories such as Aslan in ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’, and countless testimonies from those dying and those grieving that death is not the end because of Jesus. I suspect we can under estimate this cumulative effect. If we’ve grown up in Christian families, we’ve also heard it for more years than we can remember because the news of Jesus’ empty grave has been part of our story – our church story – our faith.
Those who come to faith now – who previously didn’t know about the resurrection or understand it if they knew ‘something’ are of course incredulous at first – it is a message that defies our experiences because death still seems invincible to us – but when sharing the good news with them we have lots of resources – just think of the hymnody and songs – to draw upon. The longer the Church is here – the more the world hasn’t been able to shut us up – the more credibility can be found in the story of a cross and empty tomb and of the man – the God-man, Jesus – who is alive and with his people now, the more the story of the resurrection ‘works’ its way into us from fantasy to fantastic. In commenting on the PM’s ‘Britain is a Christian country’ speech on his blog, Archbishop Justin Welby, correctly pointed out that Christianity is more in danger from indifference than attacks. The Te Deum in Matins sings of the noble army of martyrs praising God because (a) they’re not dead; and (b) because the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church – all because of the resurrection of Jesus – but this song is 4th century, so what about the 300 or so years before that?
How do you process the resurrection when it comes your way?
Well, you could be like Thomas and reject it; stubbornly put your fingers in your ears so to speak and demand your own proof. Notice however how Thomas didn’t put his finger in the wounds but let the words of Jesus telling him to – and no doubt recalling all the words said to him by the ten disciples – do their work – in his case, he didn’t come to faith as much as he stopped disbelieving. I wonder if a big part of his issue wasn’t the incredulity of the resurrection but being miffed that he missed out on the experience. Seeing Jesus didn’t lead him to faith as such – he could have disbelieved his eyes – asked who spiked his drink – but seeing did help his ears work – and he heard the equivalent of ‘you goose, stop doubting and believe – you don’t have to see me to believe in me’.
So if you’re convinced that Jesus has risen, what next?
The early church – the first generation of Christians – had to discover and experience what that meant and we have the entire New Testament as evidence of how they did it – with varying success I’d say – just as we do now. The resurrection blazes through Jesus’ followers and they won’t be silent. This change in them, is one of the best indicators of the resurrection, that something happened to them as opposed to they came up with a ‘Plan B’ to cover ‘backing the wrong horse’. Whether it was miracles or arrests, sufferings or seeing people converted, they were unstoppable – Jesus was Lord and they had work to do before he returned.
But years became decades and decades marched on. And deaths came – Stephen and James – and no doubt others – some of those 500 witnesses – they were spread out – dispersed – and the world was not responding with open arms or hearts but with varying degrees of persecution. I can understand the turmoil produced – I think you can too – why does the message of the resurrection have so little effect we wonder? Worse still, why are our lives not full of resurrection power where troubles, illness, tragedies, and death don’t bounce off us like bullets off Superman?
This is the context of Peter’s first letter which we’ll hear this Easter season. It is a letter probably written from Rome somewhere in a time when persecutions were happening to scattered Christians throughout modern day Turkey (we surmise) who simply are bewildered, I think, that following Jesus is so hard; perplexed that persecutions are coming their way and that they are actually being targeted because of following Jesus and saying that he died but he was raised. They don’t want to ‘take over the world’ but live peacefully but the world, it seems, won’t let them. Is this what the resurrection means?
The short answer throughout Peter’s letter – and it echoes throughout the New Testament is – yes. Resurrection is fantastic news – good news – but it can be dangerous news in a world that despises death but also rules by it – or the fear of it – and to have death neutered or defanged is not actually welcomed.
When you don’t fear death then living is different and we saw how the early Christians variously responded with seeking power, with sexual licence, with laziness, with concern at Jesus’ apparent lateness in returning. Yes, the decades revealed a new perspective about each other – the old distinctions of nationality, gender, social status were breaking down in the church even as they remained in society. Love, forgiveness, worship, and service were resurrection realities as they followed Jesus.
But still they wouldn’t be left alone; just as, I imagine, they were willing to speak of the hope they had to whomever asked or was willing to listen. What would it be like if coming here targeted you in the community – where you were regarded as prey, sport, or worse regarded as dangerous in this country? No matter that you pay your taxes and are loyal to the authorities, the winds blow against you. How would you feel? To whom would you turn?
Peter reminds the followers of Jesus – we’re all living in a diaspora – that the resurrection of Jesus is not something external to us, something that happened only to Jesus – but that in baptism, we are born to a living hope. Our resurrection point is the font where we are linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection and this new life has meaning and purpose now and a glorious inheritance which cannot be taken away, spoilt, or corrupted, kept in heaven for us. ‘Big deal!’ we might mutter if the rocks are aimed at our heads to which Peter replies that we’re aren’t alone but that God is on sentry duty around us, protecting us, protecting our faith.
This is what the early church had to come to grips with – and we still do today – that Jesus’ resurrected presence doesn’t translate into us becoming Superman. Deep down that’s what we want in this world. We want problems to go away and we want living on our terms. To which we discover the truth that Jesus isn’t following us, picking up after us, fixing things for us, zapping problems away that we point at – but that we are following him into each day’s living. And as we grow in this awareness, this relationship, this following, this faith we remain aware that salvation is via a cross and that this is the mystery of resurrected living – learning what ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ means. We don’t like it at times but the wonder exists that the more we live, the more experiences we have to draw on that God never abandons us, that he does help us, that he does bring good out of all things, and that he is good always to us. This is the resurrection faith – in a God we don’t see – and despite what can happen – whether the rocks hit or miraculously miss – and we grow in grace, rejoicing even in sufferings, for this produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope. Over time this faith produces joy – maybe we might call it, our confidence. And this grows and grows as we return to the font daily, as we eat at the Lord’s Table, and sit at Jesus’ feet listening to him.
How do we process the resurrection? As Christians always have done – daily – following Jesus no matter what the world might throw at us – and over time because Jesus is with us and he is faithful to us – we grow in this faith that nothing can separate us from God’s love. What a way to live!
- 1 Peter 1:3 - 9