As we have seen, to try to understand the Resurrection we have to start with the reality of death. Created for intimacy with God we lost this, turned away from communion with God, towards whatever we create as our own gods, or deny any need for God – if we turn away from life all that awaits us is death. Jesus, truly human, born, lived and died and in rising from death swept away forever the dominance of death. The most visible sign of death is the corpse; the most visible sign of Jesus’ Resurrection was the empty tomb – there was no corpse.
The Resurrection remains mystery, no one saw it happen. The crucial evidence for it comes from his few followers. Not just telling something; but first experiencing something, literally life-changing themselves. They were given a totally new way of seeing God, and an understanding what it really means to be genuinely human. This was far more important than any attempts at rational explanations of what happened. In a very real sense they found themselves taken-up, included, in Jesus’ new bodily presence.
This highlights the Eucharistic reality of Jesus. Debates and discussions have taken place about bread becoming the body of Jesus – issuing in the somewhat awkward neologism [a new word because we can’t find an existing word] Transubstantiation. Before we attach any importance to what we have to say about this mystery we must heed what Jesus says: this is my body for you – his body becomes bread, food for us to eat. It is important to stress this today because the history of the celebration of the Mass shows it being separated into two parts, with the emphasis clearly on part one: the consecration, bread and wine becoming Jesus’ real presence; the second part, the ritual meal of Jesus’ as food seems to be a kind of afterthought.
Eucharistic Rood of the risen yet dead Jesus, OLEM, Cambridge.
According to tradition, the human being, designed and destined for intimacy with God, has fallen out of knowing God in this way, and settled for simply knowing good and evil, a knowledge of which God is not the source. Fallen away from God [life] we are on our own with death on the horizon, compelling us to struggle for survival for as long as possible – so much so that we even justify war and violence in our pursuit. Death in place of God is how we chose to live our three score and ten. Death is that terrifying nothing that draws us to selfishness and sin, the ultimate black hole.
Jesus is human as originally intended by God; yet totally part of our history – even under the reign of death. Death swallowed him up, intending to thrust him into the negativity into which we have fallen – it has been called his descent into hell, where death is king with oblivion its promise. Highlighting how death is the controlling factor of all our thinking.
However, there is a difference – in Jesus’ case death is for unfallen man, and so marks the removal of the final obstacle to union with God – the transforming of the finite and limited. Everything that death means for fallen humankind – the horrors, the abuses, the murders – nature’s cynical reply to any claims to be God-like – all this changed with the death of Jesus from the highway-to-nothing to the gateway into intimacy with God – forever.
His death is real, he endured the death of fallen man though sinless – was made sin for us – 2Corinthians 5.21. It is this darkness of our fallen state that the Easter Candle illumines with new hope. Darkness is swallowed up in God; a darkness felt in moments of despair, in the hopelessness of teenage suicide, in those long and interminable bouts of loneliness. But how can the divine removal of all this be brought home to us?
It is dramatic – the drama of the empty tomb. The absence of the body is the sign of something that cannot be seen or imagined, only available through life-changing faith – the coming of Jesus through death, when through the death of the god of fallen humanity, there is the fullness of God. The trophy of our own god – is not there, there is no corpse. But if we fail to understand, forgetting to be human as we face the Easter mystery, then the empty tomb fails to speak to us; and leaves us with the Sanhedrin trying to work-out how it happened – who stole the body.
The empty tomb is a fact – the resurrection is a mystery that cannot be witnessed or imagined. There is no way of combining the two other than to say the empty tomb is beyond what history can say, leading us to the reality of something transcendent. That is the realising of God’s original plan for us mortal beings to be drawn into complete intimacy with God, through the removal of what was impeding this, our tendency to the nothing of oblivion we were inevitably facing.
We enter next into an interim period, a time when the risen Jesus was visibly with them, the time before the Ascension. It was a time when the new way had the chance to take hold – the fact that it did take hold is seen from the Easter texts. After the Ascension, when the disciples were sharing their experiences, there is no hint of nostalgia. Nowhere does it say if only you were there! He had not gone away – he is till with them and them with him through the dynamic faith he brought to them.
The new life he has introduced is not what we commonly call life after death. He is alive among the disciples, and they are aware of it. He is still here but otherwise. They enjoy a new togetherness of love binding them together, from which he is never absent. The Apostles were telling us what it is like to have Jesus with them in this new way.
If we are to hear the Easter message as it is – we need to hear the question: Why are you looking for the living among the dead? If we remain locked-into our way of understanding, Easter has not yet happened. As a new community the disciples experienced the real now of Jesus – the new way of living was so overpowering that things could not remain the same. The lesson here: their experience of the now of Jesus brought them together as a community. If we are not experiencing community – dare we look at the now of Jesus in our own lives?
We have him under the appearances of bread and wine, he came to them through hands and feet. Reflect on: He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit – 1Peter.3.19. The move from the body dead to the body alive was experienced by the disciples as from the body we killed to the body we are in. We are all too familiar with put to death in the world – but he comes alive in an entirely new way – not back from the dead. He would not walk the earth again, but showing himself in moments of real community, it was through this that they recognised him when they saw him – incarnate in a Church of joy and welcome, as a community, not a man alone.