April 4, 2010
They did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. – John 20: 9
An actress was strolling in the park one day when she saw a very beautiful little girl at play – so beautiful, in fact, that she could not resist congratulating the child’s mother, who was nearby. “Your daughter is the most beautiful child I have ever seen,” she said. “She looks so healthy too: her skin, her hair, her eyes, her teeth – everything. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a child as beautiful as she.” “Oh, that’s nothing,” said the mother, “you should see her picture!”
If the apostles did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead, do we yet understand? Today have we come predisposed to encounter the real Risen Christ as God has revealed Him, or merely a picture of the Risen Christ that suits our own fancy? At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem , some pilgrims are offended by the “commonness” of the sacred site. They report that around the tomb beggars look for a handout, peddlers push their trinkets, monks insist on a donation. It is vulgar & unseemly, they say. They would like to see the place preserved in a more “reverent” setting – perhaps with flowing lawns & pious statuary. If fact, there is such a place founded by the British General Gordon of Khartoum fame. He was an ardent Victorian protestant who was convinced he had found the “real” tomb.
But if we understand the WHO of Easter, we will be glad for the seeming vulgarity surrounding the Holy Sepulcher. The WHO of Easter – Jesus, was not a religious figure who held Himself piously aloof from the ordinary. He was not a Jesus of Madison Ave. or of Rome or of Athens , but Jesus of Nazareth: a common, ordinary place where nothing exciting or important would likely ever happen. The Highest appeared among the lowliest, the Strongest among the weakest, the Best among the worst. What He did then He does now.
Surely the Divine Force that was present in Him can be seen in the unfolding of a leaf or the sprouting of a blade of grass. But He is most of all to be found among His fellow-humans who yearn to be free from the grip of evil; free from the grip of hunger, of war, of loneliness & of despair.
This Jesus of Nazareth is the WHO of Easter & what happened to Him is the WHAT of Easter. He was raised from the dead, so the WHAT of Easter is that death does not have the last word – not the last word for His life nor for our lives. His death was not a symbolic death, but a real death – without cosmetics, flowers & sweet music. Just so, His rising was not symbolic either. We do not evade this fact by saying “His Spirit lives on” or that “His ideas live on” or that “He lives on in the lives of those who believe.” No, Jesus lives on! Some want a scientific explanation of all this. But science can only analyze one event by comparing it with other events, & the Resurrection of Jesus was a unique event that cannot be compared to anything else.
Others, like Lazarus, have returned from the dead only to die again. Jesus rose never to die again, Jesus rose to new life, where death is abolished. For those who keep the faith, this is the WHO & the WHAT of Easter. I deeply pray & hope that this is what all of us mean when we shout joyfully “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”