You go to the funeral parlour for a viewing of someone you deeply love and when the casket is opened, there is no body! What do you imagine? But when you see neatly folded the clothes you had provided, what then? And when the director telephones the morgue and there is no body there …? Something phenomenal has happened.
My widowed parishioner, Charles often told me of seeing his wife at the end of the bed and how this consoled him. Of course, he never claimed she had risen from the dead. But his report parallels the gospel record, that Jesus appeared to his disciples. For Mary it was as if Jesus called her name. Whatever happened to Jesus, Mary’s life was transformed. They were on their knees in sorrow. But once Jesus came alive to her, personally, she was standing up to tell her story.
We may never see a dead body come back to life. Even so, the story of a bodily resurrection affirms that new spiritual life is not just a mystical experience. It is embodied in practical living.
In fact “resurrection” does not mean ‘alive again’ but ‘standing up again’. Whatever it means historically, it is certainly a metaphor for renewed hope in our lives.
In Greek drama, comedy, tragedy and the heroic were common. But Jesus’ story fits none of these. Rather it is about the ironic, the counter-intuitive, the complete reversal of what is expected. A teacher like Jesus, so radical in his challenge to power, complacency and injustice, in the religious and political establishments, could not possibly be allowed to live. But the irony is that nevertheless his vision of a universal kin(g)dom was never allowed to die.
The way Jesus died was not unusual in Rome. At times the Romans nailed people on crosses along the road to intimidate the populace. But nor was Jesus’ rising again unusual. By the divine inspiration breathed into each life, we all are able to stand up again, like the tumbler toy person stehaufmannchen that always bounces straight up. I am speaking from experience, since thrice over 40 years I ended a ministry under duress, thinking I would never go back to it. But I did when doors opened to me, and each return was a resurrection experience.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Peter like us struggled to understand Jesus and misjudged his intentions. He denied him. When Jesus died, he was ready to go back fishing – until in a personal transformation, the Way of Jesus finally grasped him and he too became a strong witness. We also can be transformed by new hope.
The church has made so much of the uniqueness of Christ and of his resurrection as a saving event. But from time immemorial the Spirit of the Holy has moved like the wind in human lives to bring healing and reconciliation.
We may be brought to our knees by the unexpected in our daily life: health, relationships, employment, bereavement. But Easter claims that we can look hopefully on the most devastating of our experiences and stand up again. May we find insight and courage to make this real.