This wasn’t just a mythic story, a metaphor about new life. They claimed to have seen it happen with their own eyes. As reported in the book of Acts, We are witnesses to all that [Jesus] did…they put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…to those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. St. Paul said [Christ] appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive...
That’s quite a claim, and I wonder how you respond to it. I remember the first time it really hit me. I had lived with this story since childhood, but it had always been one of those astounding things off in the background I accepted but didn’t pay much attention to, like the infinity of space or the way a flock of birds can all swoop in a new direction, precisely together.
Then one day in my mid-twenties I was having a conversation with a stranger about various religious figures in history, and he reminded me that Jesus was the only one we know of who came back from the dead. Well, it just floored me. But what hit me was not so much this basic statement. It was the fact that deep down inside me I knew this. What changed my life forever was that I knew that I believed, and still do, that anything is possible in God: Jesus coming back physically from death, walking on water, casting out disease, turning bread into his body. I accept it all. Why?
Because I have seen that the physical world is infused with Spirit. I have seen people inexplicably, miraculously healed. Out of the blue, a person hears a distinct voice in their heart tell them something that changes their life. Shamans, lamas, Native American medicine men consistently say that they levitate or shape-shift. Ordinary people see visions. A physicist discovers that when he splits a subatomic particle in two and separates the parts by a long distance, what he does to one half affects the other. They are connected non-materially, spiritually if you will.
This is no different than your prayer somehow affecting me. One person in Albuquerque prays for another person across the country and something passes instantaneously through time and space and affects that person’s mind or body. The material world is more spiritually-infused than we can imagine. Anything is possible in God. Jesus rose physically from the dead.
What difference does this make to us? Well, if anything is possible with God, then we may not be as limited as we think. Every instant is filled with unlimited divine potential. As Thomas Merton said At any moment you can break through into the underlying unity which is God's gift in Christ. At any time a door can open, a surprising and creative solution can appear, a new pathway of renewal can rise up to meet us. Resurrection can happen any moment, if we are available to it, if we have eyes to see.
The other day I was visiting a 95-year-old parishioner in a nursing home, and I asked her what was meaningful to her about Easter. She paused, looked up, and said “I don’t know, there’s something that always happens to me on that day, where my life is opened up and made light and glorious.” It was a beautiful thing to see. Because this is an old, frustrated, and weary woman, and as she said this I watched her become fresh and alive again. The veil was pulled away. At any moment you can break through into the underlying unity which is God's gift in Christ, because everything is filled with unlimited divine potential.
But this potential is not reserved just for the fulfillment of individuals. It is intended to renew the world, too. Jesus showed this during his lifetime. He created around him a community that was an alternative to society where anything was possible, where unity was the norm. He called it the Kingdom of God. He publicly and scandalously lived it out.
In this kingdom there was no respect for hierarchy: Gentile or Jew, clean or unclean, rich or poor, women or men – he helped them belong to one another, revealing how sometimes the highest among them were really the lowest and the lowest were the highest. He asked people to return hatred with love, to turn the world upside down. Jesus promoted ultimate loyalty to God’s ways, not to those of the state or religion, or even the family.
This kingdom was way too direct a challenge to both Roman and religious powers, and so they executed him.
But he resurrected into his disciples. They experienced the Risen Christ as truly within and among them, and they broke through to the underlying unity that is God’s gift in the Risen Christ. Through his friends, Jesus continued to live out his scandalous social vision of mercy and justice. The Kingdom of God now spread throughout the Roman Empire, and they became known as crazy people who shared their resources in common, gathered together all levels of society, showed mercy to the poor, and were willing to die, if need be, if in living according to God’s ways they threatened social norms.
The resurrection has been the energy that has driven forward this Kingdom of God through the ages. We Christians have rightly earned a bad reputation for things like the Crusades and the Inquisition, but we also have a long and glorious history of showing mercy and building justice. We have started countless hospitals, fed the hungry, visited prisoners, raised up prophets against slavery and racism, and through martyrdom have fueled liberation movements in places like Poland, Latin America, and South Africa.
The resurrection continues to drive people of faith. We will never create a paradise on earth any more than we will ever get completely beyond our personal issues and problems. Sin and brokenness are far too persistent for that to happen.
But the energy of resurrection is also persistent, both within the hearts of believers and among the citizens of the Kingdom of God. As it proclaims in the beginning of John’s gospel, The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it. Or as Gandhi said "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall - think of it, always."
Today the veil is pulled away. We see, in front of our very eyes, the Paschal Mystery, the astonishing truth that lies inside our own heart, in the midst of all creation, throughout human history. Today we remember that anything is possible with God, that the material world is infused with spirit, that each moment is filled with unlimited divine potential, and that at any time we can break through to the underlying unity that is God’s gift in Christ. Our lives are opened up, and once again, we are made light and glorious.