April 7, 2013
For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.
Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and that do hold of his
side do find it.
(Wisdom ii. 23-24)
Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead was not some immediate and clearly self-evident reality that exploded onto the pages of world history? What I mean is this: in your reading of the Resurrection narratives, has one very important thing jumped out at you and grabbed your attention? That thing being that the Resurrection was neither expected nor anticipated by those nearest and dearest to Jesus – his Apostles and Disciples? We do not, after all, read that the followers of Jesus, following His crucifixion,
spent their time waiting by His tomb for His much anticipated Resurrection from the dead. Nor do we read that they were running about, wondering with excitement if anyone had happened to see him or bump into Him. Rather, we read that they were huddled together behind closed and locked doors, fearing further vengeance
that might await them at the hands of the Romans or the Jews on the one hand, and sorrowing bitterly over their own cowardice or conduct on the other. And this, even after Saints Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene had found that Jesus’ tomb was empty! No, they did not expect a Resurrection, nor even that such a
thing could ever take place, though the burial tomb of their Master was empty. The Magdalene had run to the Apostles, and cried, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have
laid Him. (St. John xx. 2) And so, as we read last week, Saints Peter and John ran to the tomb, found in it
empty of all human life, and saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been
around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. (St. John xx. 6,7) St.
John tells us that then and only then had they begun to believe the women’s accounts, but he tells us also that as
yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead…and so they went away again to their own homes. (Ibid, 9) As Fulton Sheen has written, they had the facts and evidence of the Resurrection; but they did not yet understand its full meaning. (Life of Christ, p. 406) Further confirmation of their ignorance and skepticism is found once again when the Magdalene returns to the empty tomb. We read that she … saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (Ibid, 11-17)
Realizing who He was that stood before her, and longing to embrace him, perhaps to protect and then hurry Him off to a secret place where they could hurt Him no more, she is rebuffed with a rebuke from the Risen Lord. Touch me not, he commands, for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (St. John xx. 17) Mary, clearly, understood neither the nature nor meaning of Jesus’ Risen nature. That the doubting Thomas would be
invited by Jesus, a few days hence, to Reach hither [his] finger, and behold [His] hands; and reach hither [his] hand, and thrust it into [Jesus’] side: and be not faithless, but believing, (Ibid, 27), did not make the situation any clearer. A Resurrected Jesus is one thing; what it means is quite another. So it will take some time – just about forty days to be exact, before the Apostles’ faith and understanding will grow and expand. Within that period He will reveal that He is both body and soul, flesh and spirit, transformed and transfigured to simultaneously eat bread with them on the one hand, and walk through locked doors on the other. He will also, more importantly, reveal that this spiritualized body that He bears will broaden and expand from his seat in Heaven as it grows to include all men in His living.
So I tell you all of this for a few different reasons. First, we should notice that every account of the Resurrection of Christ is honestly recorded and passed on to us just as it happened. We do not find that Christ rose from the dead and that all of a sudden the Apostles and friends of Jesus were miraculously enabled to understand what had transpired. (The writers of the Gospels and St. Paul will leave that to the creative minds of the Gnostic heretics!) There was nothing in it of the miraculous draught of fishes or the feeding of the five thousand. We read rather of ordinary human beings, in every way like you and me, full of confusion, doubt, wonder, fear, and uncertainty. And as the authors of the story do not sugar-coat or romanticize men’s response
to Christ’s death, so too they will not spare us their reaction to His rising. From beginning to end we read of an honest record of how men of all sorts responded to the phenomenon which we call Jesus Christ. In St. Mark’s Gospel we read, even, that [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided
them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (St. Mark xvi. 14) In sum, the Apostles and transcribers of Christ’s Resurrection faithfully record
every detail of an event which surprised, confounded, and eventually converted them – men, as it turns out, of initial unbelief!
Second, what the authors of the New Testament record is something that happened to them, something that they could never have imagined, desired, or deserved. If they had been left to their own understandings and expectations, they would have continued to measure Christ’s life and death by the line of their own thinking. We read in this morning’s Gospel, however, that, Then 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.... (St. John xx. 19) The Apostles are astounded, incredulous, confused, and more afraid than ever. How did he get into this room? The doors are sealed tight and locked.
Then something begins to happen to them. Jesus says to his friends, Peace be unto you. (Ibid, 19) What is this that He is saying? How can he utter these words to us? Peace be unto you, He says To you? To us? We who ran from Him, denied Him, foreswore Him, shrunk from Him, forsook Him? To us who now huddle cowardly together ‘fearing the Jews’ and not His God and Our God? (Easter Sermon 1609: Lancelot Andrewes) What is this that is happening to us? It is certainly nothing we could have imagined or invented. It is, in point of fact, overturning all reason and methods of calculation. No, this is certainly something that is happening to us, something to which we cannot respond. Peace be unto you, Jesus says. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. (Ibid, 20) As Bishop Andrewes remarks, with no hint of revenge, no verbal reproof, not even an unkind word, Jesus says to his Mother and Apostles, You and I are at peace. You and I are friends. Peace be unto you. (Ibid) Something is happening to them. They are his friends. Peace be unto you. He repeats it twice! He has forgiven them, and brings them his Peace. They will carry his Peace, and so forgive all others! As my Father has sent me, even so send I you. (Ibid, 21) The forgiveness of sins is on the move; it has risen up and out of the grave; it is out of the grave and spreading abroad. The forgiveness of sin reconciles men to God. The Peace I now possess, I give be you. Now go, and give it to others. There is no Resurrection without the communication of the forgiveness of sins. Offer it always; if it is accepted it will grow. If it is rejected, love and forgive all the more. To love is to suffer. Behold my hands and my side. Forgiveness is the law of Love. It is commanded and not suggested. God glorifies the scars of the Man who is also love. (The Forgiveness of Sins: CW, p.181)
The forgiveness of sins is the first key that unlocks the door to the mystery of the Resurrection. We said before that God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity, and that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery….(Wisdom ii. 23, iii. 1,2) Something is happening to followers of Jesus. In the coming days they will seem to be dead to the world because having received the forgiveness of sins, they are being reconciled to God, whose Peace Christ is, and whose love they must spread. There departure [from the world] is taken for misery by some, but they have overcome the world.Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 St. John v. 4,5) For, He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (Ibid, 11,12) To live in the Resurrected Christ means to have the Son; to have the Son means to have the forgiveness of sins. To have the forgiveness of sins means to have new life – the Resurrected life of Jesus Christ that reconciles all men to God.
Christ’s Resurrection is what has happened to the Apostles, and to all faithful men and women in all ages who have allowed themselves to be touched by it. We can spend our lives pushing it away from us, making the excuse
that our sin is too great, our belief too weak, our love too faint, and our hopes too narrow. We can reject it too because we can’t understand how forgiveness can conquer resentment, love hate, hope despair, and wisdom
ignorance. And then the devil will have us exactly where he wants us. He loves to convince us that we shall be forgiven, though we need not forgive – or that Christ’s Resurrection has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins. Satan loves to convince us that, when all is said and done, that tiny compartment in our hearts reserved for “unforgiveness” will be passed by and overlooked by God the Judge. Yet it is precisely that one space reserved for that one person whom we have not forgiven that will surely, in the end, ensure our damnation. Heaven’s law is love. As unworthy as we are of it, we must receive it. And more than that, we must extend it to all. For Love in the flesh rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things,hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. xiii. 6-8) The dawning of this realization is what happened to the Apostles long ago as they began to rise in Christ and spread his forgiveness. And we can do the same only if and when we realize that, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9) When, with the poet, we shall sing:
Thus through all eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me
As our dear Redeemer said:
This is the Wine and this the Bread.
(Broken Love: William Blake)
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