In his book, Resurrection; Release From Oppression, (Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 1985), theologian Morton Kelsey has said, “Responding to the resurrection of Jesus or to the presence of the risen Lord is a process, a growing, an integration, a moving toward wholeness.”(p. 175) Each year during the 40-day feast of Easter God gives us great gifts, gifts that far exceed in quality and magnitude any that we might imagine, to help us come closer to him.
Last week in Part III of Why Resurrection? we discussed the cosmic function of the eucharist. We looked at a diagram that illustrates how, through Christ, the vital circuit between God and us, together with all creation, is completed: in liturgy, the Sacraments, prayer, and the work of our hands. See Colossians 1:15-23 here. The physical body of Christ, of which we are members, possesses a function that is always active and permanent, even eternal. See Cipriano Vagaggini, O.S.B., The Flesh, Instrument of Salvation; A Theology of the Human Body (The Society of St. Paul, Staten Island, N.Y., 1969), p. 16) In the eucharist, the resurrected Christ continuously re-creates us, his sisters and brothers, in his image. See Romans 8:29 here. When we approach the communion table,
we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (Jerusalem Bible)
The word liturgy means work. Eucharist is the work that God does together with humanity to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Christ’s work is the continuous action of transforming humanity every more perfectly into his likeness. Our role, our task and privilege, is to offer.
In liturgy, the historical events of Christ’s death and resurrection become actual, here and now. See Sofia Cavalletti’s The History of the Kingdom of God; Liturgy and the Building of the Kingdom, (Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, 2013), chapter 2. Because we are present at the liturgy and actively participating in the death and resurrection of Christ, we can do with him today what he has done and still does: we are able to offer “these gifts” (See Book of Common Prayer p. 363, Roman Missal p. 24).
What are “these gifts”? The bread and the wine, the work of human hands, become the Body and Blood of Christ, the true vine that is Christ who is inseparable from us, the branches on the vine. See John 15:1 here. “Through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit” we are able to offer “these gifts”: all of us, and each one of us; all of our lives, and all of my life. (BCP p. 375; Roman Missal, p. 27)
Is this merely a grand idea? Or is this transcendent reality something I can really live?
Jesus’ resurrection freed us from bondage to sin and death, but what is that freedom for? In her book, Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection, (Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1984), Pheme Perkins writes that Jesus’ death and resurrection means both that our individual lives and the future of the world have been determined in some way, a way that is to be reflected in our lives as Christians. Since we have been freed from sin, we are not victims of its internal power to enslave. Since we are freed from death, we do not fear death as the end of us, as some cruel joke played against our human activity and effort. Having been freed from selfishness, we can risk ourselves on a vision of the Kingdom of God. This salvation is not some quick transformation of all the negative elements in our lives, nor is it only an individual matter. Easter calls us to be a new community in which the reality of freedom from sin and death is to be lived out, both in worship and in our everyday lives.
Resurrection reminds us that the presence of the risen Christ empowers us to do what human effort alone cannot do.(Perkins, 411-13) We do not believe we are a perfect community, but our orientation is fundamentally toward God rather than the false myths of scientism and individualistic achievement. We embrace science as a tool, but we know that redemption is a gift of God, not a feat of social engineering. Our faith in God incarnated in Christ ends not in death but in resurrection.
Thanks to Christ’s resurrection, we can to have a relationship with God. In my work with children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd I used to ask the children, “Who do you think was luckier? Those who walked with Jesus, or we who are alive today?” To answer this we look at two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. First, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13:35 available here.
As theologian Raymond Brown has pointed out, Luke’s readers, living in the generation after Jesus, might have reflected to themselves nostalgically that half a century before in a nearby land there were people fortunate enough to have seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes: “Would that we had been there!” they might have said. Luke says that those who were there walking with Jesus could not truly know him until the scriptures were explained and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. The Christians of Luke’s time had the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread – those components of our Sunday service. In the matter of encountering the risen Jesus with faith a past generation is not more privileged than the present one. See Raymond E. Brown, A Risen Christ in Eastertime, (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1991) p. 50.
Now let’s read the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus in the garden, John 20:11-18, available here. Brown notes that Mary’s inability to see Jesus is overcome only when Jesus calls her by name. Compare John 10:3,5 here. Mary’s spontaneous reaction to being called by name — she calls Jesus the endearing term for teacher, Rabbouni — verifies that claim of the Good Shepherd. She is one of those of whom Jesus said: “I know my sheep and mine know me.” John 10:14. (Brown, pp. 71-72)
Next week, we will continue looking at the gifts of resurrection.