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Wrestling with the Resurrection

Dr Fred Nye, Sunday, 15th April, 2018

As a trainee Reader I had a wonderful tutor called Phillip Cunningham. Phillip was at that time a schoolteacher and Reader, who later became priested – and he had a great gift for bringing theology down to earth. During a teaching session on Easter he asked us students three questions. First question – ‘If most of us don’t see apparitions of the Risen Christ; how do we know he’s alive?’ Second question ‘If tomorrow a team of archaeologists discovered Christ’s bones in Palestine, would it make any difference to your faith?’ And the third – ‘What difference does the Resurrection really make in a world of sin and pain?’

They are good questions, aren’t they? And particularly this weekend that third one, at a time when we have been bombing Syria to try and stop the gassing of children with chemical weapons. The Resurrection of Our Lord is central to the Christian faith, yet is so hard for us to grasp as an event, so difficult for us fully to understand its implications for the here and now.

The first disciples found it difficult to grasp as well. When Jesus showed himself to them, after the encounter on the Emmaus road, he came out of the blue - like a visitor from another world - and they hardly recognised him. But he showed them his hands and his feet and asked for something to eat: it was to re-join this world of pain and sorrow and joy that he had shouldered his way out of the tomb. This was not some ghostly apparition, but the risen, still wounded Christ, asking for food not to prove anything, but just because he was hungry. And as usual Jesus taught them, opening their minds to the scriptures, and pointing them forward to Pentecost -  to the coming of his Holy Spirit upon the church; in its worship, its fellowship, its mission and its ministry. Perhaps some of those witnesses to the resurrection wanted to hug him, to hold on to him, just as Mary Magdalene had done in the Easter garden. But Jesus was trying to introduce them to a new relationship with him, that would transcend time and space.

Do you wrestle with the Resurrection? Some of us, and I’m one, tend to worry about its biological plausibility. But all of that becomes much less of an issue if we remember who Jesus is. Jesus is always the One who bridges earth and heaven, time and eternity. He is the ultimate time traveller, the supreme Lord of all space and all time who continually weaves in and out of the material world and human lives. In his Resurrection Jesus becomes part of the warp and weft of our earthly existence, God’s gold thread in the fabric of life. ‘The Lord is here. His spirit is with us’.

Do you wrestle with the Resurrection?  If Luke in his gospel tells us what the Resurrection is like, John in his first letter suggests how it might change things for us. John describes us as children of God, loved by the Father and sharing with Jesus in his Risen likeness. We can get an inkling of what this is about by using a human analogy. It is strange, almost uncanny, how some adopted children take on the habits, gestures and speech inflections of their adoptive parents, and even seem at times to look like them. That family likeness will be ours, says John, if we share Our Lord’s risen life, the life that overflows with abundant costly love, the love that hurts. But John warns us that if we truly live this life we will find ourselves struggling to make that love real in a world of sin and pain. Like Jesus we will face difficult choices, and risk rejection and misunderstanding by the world. A sobering thought for Christ’s people – do we pass the test? Do we love until it hurts? Or do we still have some way to go?
Do you wrestle with the Resurrection? Do you even grapple with the risen Christ himself – try to hold him down to get some answers from him? In one of his wonderful hymns Charles Wesley does just that. Like Jacob, who wrestled with God at Peniel, Wesley imagines himself struggling with the invisible, risen Christ – Come O thou Traveller unknown, whom still I hold, but cannot see…...

And Wesley continues later with this quite extraordinary verse:

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will release my hold;
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy Nature know.

Wesley’s longing and yearning – his ‘instant prayer’ -  are passionate, intimate. Too passionate and intimate it seems for some hymn books: the English Hymnal for one leaves that verse out altogether. But if we like Wesley, hold on, hold on in faith and hope and love, the invisible risen Christ will reveal himself even to the likes of us. He will reveal himself to us, softly and gently, deep in our real selves - in the abundant, loving, costly humanity of his Easter glory.

Who, I ask Thee, Who art Thou?                       ‘Tis Love! ‘tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
Tell me Thy Name, and tell me now…               I hear Thy whisper in my heart!
Speak, or Thou never hence shall move,            The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
And tell me if Thy Name is Love?                     Pure universal Love Thou art;
                                                                            To me, to all Thy mercies move;
                                                                            Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love.

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