The simple truth is that the accounts of the Passion of Christ in the four Gospels could only have been written in the light of the Resurrection. Sorrow and joy are not simply opposites. Each intensifies the other: the sorrows of the Passion intensify the joys of the Resurrection and vice versa. Passion and Resurrection go together. Yet this Christian understanding belongs to the great ethical teachings of other religions and philosophies in making known the idea of essential life which is greater than suffering and death. Life is greater than death. Thus, Easter challenges our culture of death and fear. The Easter message is about the triumph of life over death and the counter to fear. “Be not afraid.” This has a certain resonance in our own fearful times.
Having immersed ourselves in the sorrows of the Passion we now immerse ourselves in the wonders and joys of the Resurrection. What we are given to see is particularly profound and speaks to an important aspect of education. The accounts of the Resurrection are really about the process of understanding. They present to us a certain critique of reason and open us out to a larger understanding of reality. They show us the necessary interplay between ontology and epistemology, between thinking about being (reality), and thinking about thinking, about our various ways of knowing.
Mary Magdalene and the other women come to the tomb expecting a body only to find the empty tomb. This marks the first moment of the beginnings of a change. The women are told by a young man - an angel - that the one whom they seek, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified,” is not here. “He is risen. Behold the place where they laid him.” In our cynical world of conspiracy theories and false truths, we might assume that this must lead to the fabrication of a tale. But the evidence of absence is not the same thing as the absence of evidence. The Resurrection accounts all turn on the presence of God, of the life and light that is greater than death and darkness. That is what is “made known” through the encounters with Christ, encounters which open our understanding.
The phrase is Luke’s and belongs to his extraordinary accounts of the making known of the idea of the Resurrection especially in the wonderful story of the Road to Emmaus. Two broken-hearted disciples are fleeing from Jerusalem, perplexed and confused about the events of the Crucifixion. Jesus runs out after them, as it were, but “their eyes were holden,” as Luke puts it. After all, they had no expectation of seeing him having seen him die on the Cross. But the amazing thing about this scene is how Jesus draws out of them their confusion and perplexity. Only then does he provide them with a way of understanding which is based entirely on a way of reading the Jewish Scriptures about the sufferings of Christ. Here Jesus speaks in third person narrative about himself. He teaches by providing them with a way of understanding. In this case, a way of understanding texts, things written.
He is challenging the idea of received opinions, ideas to which we are firmly committed, perhaps, without any awareness. He is providing them with another way of thinking about things, a way of making sense of the things of his Passion.
That is quite wonderful and speaks to the ways of our thinking and knowing, opening us out to a larger understanding of reality. But is it just about words? Just about possible interpretations? Will that be enough to quell our fears and quiet our souls? What will it take for us to know what God, it seems, wants us to know?
The Resurrection is about the essential life of God. That life breaks out of the tombs of our minds. It breaks out as the underlying logic of the Passion. “Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.” The action immediately recalls the very night of his Passion and betrayal, the events of the last supper. His action crystallizes the teaching. They immediately are moved to thought and reflection. “Did not our hearts burn within us when he talked with us on the way?”
The Resurrection makes God known as essential life. It means a change and a transformation in us about our understanding of reality. Here, in the Road to Emmaus story, the disciples who were fleeing Jerusalem in fear turn around and return. Their fear has been turned into courage and joy. It is a kind of resurrection of the understanding in them. They return to tell the others about the encounter and about how “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” It is a lovely image that provides the logic of the sacraments. God uses the things of the world to make known the things of the Spirit. It means that we learn not only through the parade of words but also through the pageant of deeds. They are one and the same. Jesus here speaks and acts. He is what he says and does. Thus, the essential life of God is made known to us and in us. Such is the radical new life of the Resurrection. It changes how we think about death and about our fears and anxieties. This is the Resurrection in us.
John Donne’s classic sonnet, Death Be Not Proud, draws on this way of thinking to offer a compelling challenge to our received ideas about death. Death is changed. It is not “mighty and dreadful.” Far from being the fateful master of our lives, death is slave to “fate, chance, kings and desperate men” and associated with unsavory and unpleasant things - “poison, war, and sickness”. More radically, “Death thou shalt die.” Death is swallowed up in the life of God; our fears and sorrows transformed into joy and delight. Such is the radical nature of the Resurrection. “Rise heart, thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise alwayes” (George Herbert).
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy