How not to understand the Resurrection

On Easter Sunday morning I go to the tomb in the company of faith-filled women who have followed Jesus with the greatest devotion throughout these days of his suffering and death. I am once again privileged to celebrate the Triduum and Easter Sunday with the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of St Cecilia’s on the Isle of Wight.

With loving reverence, by devoutly proclaiming the Scriptures and celebrating Christ’s action in the liturgy, we have re-lived with powerful intensity the saving events of Christ’s Passover and our redemption and received an outpouring of grace. Now the Gospel narrates how first the women and then Peter and John come to the empty tomb on the morning of the first day.

We live in an age which, for all its hedonism – or because of all of it – is profoundly alienated from the body. Only such an alienation could sustain the notion that one’s gender is nothing to do with one’s body, but an attitude or projection of the mind.

And only in such a self-absorbed age could a theology gain ground which claims as a more sophisticated expression of faith the notion that when the Apostles proclaimed the Resurrection they were expressing the conviction that “in a very real sense” Jesus was still present in their memories – or they were expressing the belief that his message would live on in their hearts. Surely this is itself a modern attempt to live by myth, rather than a recognition of the hard logic of the Gospel which understands that such a “resurrection”, is nothing of the sort?

If what the Scriptures were intended to convey was that Jesus “in a very real sense” lived on in spirit, they would have been less adamant about proclaiming the emptiness of his tomb. It is this insistence that the body is not there, along with the initial logical conclusion on the part of Mary Magdalene that therefore someone must have taken it away, which grounds it in reality. In other words, as St John says, one fails to understand the Scripture that “He must rise from the dead” if such a claim is predicated on anything other than a bodily resurrection.

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