What Resurrection actually means

Recently it was reported that quite a few people who call themselves Christians do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. My reaction was to wonder what they think the Resurrection is? Because if they think it is just about Jesus coming alive again they have missed the point. Earlier in the Gospel story we do hear of Lazarus being brought back to life from the dead ; but when this happens to someone, as it does occasionally nowadays, we know that the person who is alive again is alive in the normal way, which means he or she will eventually die. But the risen body of Jesus is not like that. For the risen Jesus that the disciples meet then, is the risen Jesus who is still alive today. So what does that mean?

We get a clue in our 2nd Reading (Col 3:1-4) where Paul tells us Christians “To look for the things of heaven.” Now that can confuse those who think of heaven as a place, for strictly speaking heaven is everywhere that God is; and since God, the Creative force, is everywhere, heaven is everywhere, but most of the time we cannot see it or even feel it. Why is that? Because at the moment, our bodies are physical bodies and we have to work quite hard to be aware of the fact that we are spiritual as well. Notice in the Gospel (John 20:1-9) that Peter sees the empty tomb but no more, whereas John not only sees but believes. In other word he sees the spiritual reality that is God. Sometimes we do sense it, when we see a beautiful sunset, or fall in love; but most of the time if we want to link up with the spiritual and thus with God, we have to make an effort, through prayer and worship and meditation, which is why prayer is so important. To pray is “to look for the things of heaven”, in other words to work at finding God’s presence and power in our ordinary everyday lives.

St Paul also teaches us about this in his great passage about life and death in his First Letter to the Corinthians. (15:12-58) There he says that death is like a seed falling into the ground.  “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.44) St Paul says that this is what the risen body of Jesus is like. It is a spiritual body. But the Bible is also clear that the risen Jesus is not a ghost, that for a while, to strengthen the faith of the disciples, he appears to them as if he were physical, so that they can touch him and eat with him; and yet he can also suddenly disappear from their sight.

 In the end, the Resurrection is therefore a unique event, which is why it is difficult for us to fully understand. It is, after all, God at work, showing his power to us. And since we can never fully understand God, we can never fully understand the Resurrection. We can only marvel at what God can do. For through the power of God, present in the risen Christ, we humans are able to realise the spiritual side of our nature, and use it to bring God’s love to the world. Through this power, we are given eternal life now, so that when our physical body dies, our spiritual body lives on in and with God. We become part of the Resurrection.

However, unlike Jesus, when we die we no longer appear to others in what appears to be a physical way, whilst this is precisely what Jesus does, and in doing so he transforms history. Before the Resurrection, the disciples are a frightened group of men and women, hiding away in despair, because the Lord that they followed has died a terrible death. Then, gradually, in the Resurrection, they begin to see Jesus in this new way, and their lives are transformed, as the power of God the Holy Spirit pours through them, and makes them into people who will preach the message of Jesus with courage and joy. Now they are prepared even to die for him, so strong is his risen power in and with them.

This risen Lord Jesus, the power of God coming to us as a man, and even dying for us as a man, is now always present to support and strengthen us. We will never fully understand how God works in this amazing way, all we can do is allow God to work in us and through us, whatever difficulties we have to face. The disciples did it, and so can we.