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 on to 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 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 betrayal of Jesus 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 at all, 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) Saints Peter and John then ran to the tomb, found in it empty, 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 rebuked by 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 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 will come to understand the meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection.
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 as God’s Word Made Flesh he will leave behind and breathe new life into His Body on earth, the Church. Through this Body, He will be with and in His friends through the Holy Ghost.
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. 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 account of how His friends responded to His reappearance. In St. Mark’s Gospel we read, even, that [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upraided 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, who slowly moved from unbelief to deep faith.
Second, the authors of the New Testament record 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 treated Christ as dead and gone. 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 this something begins to happen to them. Jesus says to his friends, Peace be unto you. (Ibid, 19) What is this that He is saying? Why does He say it? He speaks to His Apostles, those who abandoned 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? It is certainly nothing that the Apostles could have imagined or invented. In fact, it confounds all of their expectations. Certainly, something is happening to [them]. Something should happen to us also. But what is it? 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. He calls them friends. Peace be unto you. He repeats it twice! He has forgiven them and brings them His Peace. As my Father has sent me, even so send I you. (Ibid, 21) The forgiveness of sins is on the move; He has risen up and out of the grave and is moving out and abroad. Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. The Apostles are forgiven and now are sent out to spread the Good News to all other men. The forgiveness of sinreconciles 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 forgiveness of sins. Offer it always; if it is accepted it will grow. If it is rejected, love and forgive all the more. Forgiveness is the law of Love. It is commanded and not suggested.
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. The forgiveness of sins has Risen from the Dead and welcomes them into New Life. 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 be made new by the forgiveness of sins. To have the forgiveness of sins means to be touched by the Omnipotent Risen Love of God in the Flesh and to begin to find Peace with God and to spread that love and peace to the nations.
What has happened to the Apostles is that they realize that Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins, that the forgiveness of sins is alive and well and necessary for all men’s salvation. All faithful men who receive the forgiveness of sins are born again and anew into it. All men are made to receive it. 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) If we receive this Love as the forgiveness of sins, we cannot help but extend it to all others. The is the Word of God’s Love made flesh, Jesus Christ, to be embraced in our hearts and souls. Then, 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)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons