Thoughts on Resurrection
By Sister Ruth Eileen Dwyer
Something about April and Resurrection belong together! We encounter new life bursting into being more visibly every day: the slow but steady increase of sunlight each morning and evening; the sowing of new seed; the watch for the first forsythia or daffodil; the bursts of bird calls seeking mates — all witness the transformation of death to life.
With the arrival of spring each year our Christian faith recalls the wondrous mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection to new life. We experience anew the wonder, amazement and thanksgiving for God’s overwhelming love. The essence of the Gospel message is that God loves us enough to become one of us in Jesus, who lived and died and rose from the dead for us. In God’s loving mercy, our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are challenged once again to live the new commandment Jesus gave us the night before he died: “Love one another; as I have loved you, so you also must love one another.” (John 13:34)
How did Jesus reveal his Resurrection to the disciples who for the most part abandoned him in his passion? One of the engaging qualities of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after the Resurrection is that they came as a surprise. Several Gospel accounts show us the risen Jesus with a gentle sense of humor! His followers usually do not recognize him immediately, but see his identity gradually unfold.
In the Gospel of St. John, the appearance to Mary Magdalen, first of the disciples to see him, begins with Mary’s search for him at the tomb while it was still dark. Even in the dark, she finds the tomb open, with two angels sitting where Jesus had been laid. They ask why her tears, and she responds: “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” Turning around, she saw a man standing whom she thought must be the gardener. He, too, asks why her tears, and she makes the same response, also asking him to tell her where he has put Jesus’ body so she can go and remove him. Her desire creates great strength! Jesus simply says: “Mary!” She responds: “Rabboni!” Jesus asks her not to cling to him, as he has not ascended to the Father, but rather to go and find the brothers and tell them he is ascending to his God and their God. Mary did as Jesus said, and even though the brothers didn’t believe her, she is the first witness to the Resurrection.
Another playful and surprising incident recorded in the Gospel of St. John is the account of Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias where the disciples went out for a night’s fishing. Coming back to the shore in the early morning with no catch, they heard a man call out to them: “Have you caught anything, friends?” They answered: “No!” The man they did not recognize called: “Throw the nets on the starboard and you’ll find fish.” They dropped their nets and immediately caught so many fish they could not haul them in! John, the beloved disciple, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Then Peter, the impetuous, put on his cloak and jumped into the water. Strange action given the circumstances! The other disciples towed in the net filled with fish. Ever the gracious host, Jesus was on the shore to welcome them with a charcoal fire and fish cooking on it, and some bread. Jesus said: “Bring some of the fish you have caught.” Simon Peter, in his usual manner, dragged the net to shore with 150 big fish—and the net did not break. Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast!” Quietly they came, not bold enough to ask “Who are you?” for they knew it was the Lord, whom they had deserted in his passion and death. Then in a loving, forgiving gesture, Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish.
In the Gospel accounts of St. Matthew and St. Mark, the Risen Jesus tells the disciples to go back to Galilee, the place of their day to day life, and the starting point of their call to follow Jesus. There they will meet him and continue that mission with the power of the Holy Spirit. We will meet him in the Galilees of our world as he offers each of us the same call to discipleship. We need only to be awake, attentive to his presence in the people and events around us — whether family, friends, enemies or strangers. Our mission is to those with whom we work or pray or play; those who are troubled, saddened, lonely; those who are among the poor, the hungry, the homeless. Our love for them can bring some measure of new life and hope — the April spirit of Resurrection.
To celebrate the fullness of Easter joy renewed in our own lives, I think you will appreciate the exuberant words of St. John Chryosotom, an early Father of the Church. He eloquently pictures for us the amazing love of God for all people and invites us to share that love with others.
Come you all: enter into the joy of the Lord.
You the first and you the last,
Receive alike your reward;
you the rich and poor, dance together;
you sober and you foolish, celebrate today;
you who have kept the fast and
you who have not; rejoice today.
The table is richly loaded: enjoy the royal banquet.
The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry.
All of you enjoy the banquet of faith;
all of you receive the riches of his goodness…
Christ is risen and the demons are cast down,
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice,
Christ is risen and life is freed,
Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead:
For Christ, being raised from the dead,
has become our Leader and
Reviver of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom
Byzantine Daily Worship