He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Richard Hollingdale
Sunday 20th April, 2014


Year A – Acts 10: 34-43 / Jn 20: 1-18

A story which did not make it into the gospels.

One day, after his resurrection, the Lord appeared to a certain fisherman. “Peace be with you. I am Jesus. My death has saved all who believe, and I am returned to show the Father's love and power.” “No, you're not Jesus. Clear off, you're scaring all the fish,” answered the old fisherman. “What must I do for you to believe?” asked Jesus. “Walk across the water to me,” the fisherman replied.

So Jesus started walking, but soon he began to sink and disappear under the water. After he had swum back to shore, the old man said to him, “There you are, see, you're not Jesus; you can't walk across water.” “Well, Jesus replied, I used to be able to do it until I got these blessed holes in my feet!”

We can’t take this business of resurrection seriously, can we? People don’t just come back to life; that’s not the way the world works.

There is no doubt that many people do find the idea of resurrection a difficult one. It can be challenging to faithful Christians and a real obstacle to people who are exploring the faith.

While it’s true that people do not come back to life, Jesus was no ordinary person. Jesus is unique. The way he lived his life, the impact he had on those who met him (and we might add, the impact he has had on the world ever since) made him very special. His disciples came to believe that he was in some way especially close to God; a closeness we now describe by saying that he is God as well as man, fully human and fully divine. Unique. So it would not be surprising that things could happen to Jesus that could not happen to an ordinary person.

It’s also important to say that resurrection is not the same as resuscitation or revivifying, bringing a person back to life so that their life continues in the same way. As David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham, so graphically (and controversially) put it back in the 1980s, resurrection is ‘more than just a conjuring trick with bones’. It is about transformation.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I am a keen gardener. If I hadn’t decided on a career in teaching, I think I would have worked somewhere in gardening and horticulture. Perhaps John was a gardener too, because he is the only one of the gospel writers to make a point of telling us that Jesus’ tomb was located in a garden; and he is the only one to tell us that Mary Magdalene initially mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener. An incidental detail perhaps, but there is certainly a gentle and rather naturalistic sense to John’s account of the resurrection story.

When I stop to think about it, I am amazed that tiny tomato seeds can, within a few weeks, turn into large, robust plants as tall as I am. I grow the ‘Gardener’s Delight’ variety of cherry tomato, and last summer the branches were weighed down with sometimes 14 or 16 sweet and juicy fruits, thanks to the long days of sunshine. And I remember as a boy putting a caterpillar, together with a supply of leaves, into a jam jar and marvelling as it eventually turned into a butterfly. Little daily miracles!

In the fantastic weather this week, nature has been so spectacularly and beautifully renewing and refreshing itself. How appropriate then to suggest that, if a small seed can transform into something so large and abundantly fruitful, or a small black spiny caterpillar transform into a glorious peacock butterfly, is it so far-fetched to think that Jesus, the Son of God, could also be transformed?

The gospels tell of this transformation. People did not recognise Jesus at first. Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener until something about him made her look again: the sound of his voice, perhaps, or his mannerisms. Then when he called her by her name, she realised. There are accounts too about how Jesus could appear and disappear at will, even inside locked rooms. Such things may not trouble those of us who are science fiction aficionados, as they are pretty bread-and-butter stuff in the world of Dr. Who or Star Trek; familiar too in novels written in that style of heightened realism which is often (but perhaps misleadingly) called ‘magical realism’, such as those by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who sadly died on Thursday. But in any case, we surely miss the point if we get too hung up on the physical details.

Whatever exactly happened on the first Easter morning and however we account for it, what is undeniable is that those who witnessed the events underwent a profound spiritual experience which shaped the rest of their lives. Answering Jesus’ call, they devoted themselves to spreading the good news, as Peter does in our reading from Acts, and some paid a heavy price; Christian tradition is that Peter himself was executed by crucifixion. Yet, like ripples on a pond, the Christian message has spread across the centuries and across the world. Individuals whose inner spiritual life was shaped by encountering the risen Christ have in turn renewed and reshaped much of our world. It is this inner transformation which is the real significance of resurrection.

In its broadest terms, what Jesus’ resurrection signifies is that God is a God of life, not of death; a God of hope, not despair. Jesus said that he came to give life - life in all its fullness. Jesus wants us to live a full and rich life, loving generously, forgiving readily, seeking the common good, making the world a better place. He can transform our lives, if we will let him, setting us free to be the people we are meant to be.

There are so many examples to inspire us: people who have turned their lives around from the darkest and bleakest of situations; people whose lives of unconditional love and humble service are quite Christ-like; people whose capacity for compassion and generosity moves us to tears.

My prayer today is that, in the coming weeks, all of us may catch a glimpse of Jesus, listening for him calling us by name, and recognising him in the renewing, rebuilding and transforming of lives, so that, with Mary Magdalene, we may be able to say: “I have seen the Lord. He is risen!”

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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