SCP # Tractswarm 2 – the Resurrection
I must have preached on the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ a hundred times, but I don’t think I have ever tried to write a short piece on what it is.
I have always emphasized that Jesus appeared (with one great exception, which I believe ultimately was no exception) only to those who already loved him and believed that was the Messiah of Israel and/or the Son of God, to those who had put their trust in him.
He appeared quietly and intimately to Mary Magdalene who loved him dearly. He appeared to his terrified apostles in the upper room where they had four days before eaten the Last Supper. He appeared to Thomas, who loved him but could not believe he was alive. He appeared to two disciples (and I vividly remember G.B. Caird in a lecture in Oxford in a throw-away line saying “And I don’t suppose it has occurred to many of you that they were probably a married couple”!) walking sadly away from Jerusalem to Emmaus, grieving his death.
And the results of these appearances were all the same: they found that their grief was dispelled, their doubts were gone. Mary Magdalene’s tears were dried and she was wild with joy. The frightened apostles, huddled behind locked doors were liberated from their fears and turned into the bold, confident men we see teaching the Good News of the Resurrection “in spite of dungeon, fire or sword”. Thomas turned from sad doubt to joyful certainty, which led him to shout the first Creed of the Church “My Lord and my God”. All those who saw the Lord would certainly have maintained the reality of his rising from the dead, but what really convinced them that this was not just an inexplicable miracle was that these experiences brought them not intellectual certainty, but a deep sense of joy and peace that only the assured perpetual presence of the Lord could bring.
Equally important is to remember those to whom Jesus did not appear after his Resurrection, Pontius Pilate or Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and the pharisees. He appeared to some frightened men and women, some disillusioned fishermen, some heart-broken friends. His Resurrection appearances were never intended to force belief – the devil tempted him to do that in the desert (if angels caught him when he threw himself from the top of the Temple, the people would have to believe he was at least someone special); the pharisees taunted him to use the same ploy as he hung on the Cross (“Come down and we will believe your claims”). But to them all he said “Get behind me, Satan”.
And that brings us to the seemingly glaring exception to what I have been saying: the appearance of the risen Lord to Paul on his way to Damascus. Paul hated the followers of Jesus and wanted them all in jail or executed, and yet the Lord Jesus appeared to him and, as we put it, converted him. But (to take an example from a widely different time and age) those who want homosexuals persecuted or imprisoned or even put to death are often the ones most likely to be gay themselves, some deeply repressed, others hypocritically practicing until led in handcuffs from a public restroom! So I think it was with Paul – he was a deep scholar and knew all about the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah. I believe he must have seen him in Jerusalem, perhaps even on the Cross: it was a small society. He had heard Stephen’s testimony to Jesus the Christ, and watched him die bravely proclaiming the Resurrection. I believe the “sudden” conversion on the road to Damascus had been brewing and tormenting Paul for years, and that it took only a few days of earnest and exhausting conversation with loving disciples in Damascus before the scales fell from his eyes and he saw why Jesus had said he was persecuting him. He saw that if he persecuted the followers of Jesus he was persecuting him because baptism made them one Body. This great doctrine is all over his epistles, as is the doctrine that God chooses the weak and seemingly foolish things of this word to confound the strong and seemingly wise.
Paul saw Jesus risen, ascended, glorified, and began a life of joyful toil to proclaim the Resurrection. He was tortured and died for that as were thousands of others, because they all believed love was stronger than death. And really that’s all we need to know about the Resurrection.