How do we understand someone rising from the dead? As we celebrate the seven weeks of the Easter Season, the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost, it seems clear from the Scriptures that there were stages of understanding for the first followers of Christ.
The first stage was an awareness that the tomb was empty. Had the body been stolen or taken? Jesus was not in the tomb.
The second stage of awareness is that people began to experience meetings with the Risen Lord. Mary Magdalene would meet Jesus at the empty tomb. The apostles would meet him in the upper room as he appeared to them behind locked doors. Two apostles on the road to Emmaus would meet him in the breaking of the bread. Followers of Jesus began to experience that the body of Jesus wasn’t taken, but risen! Jesus was no longer dead but alive.
As the first followers of Jesus began to accept stage two, that the Risen Lord was not in the tomb but “out there,” a third stage began to develop. As Jesus breathed his Spirit on the Apostles personally, and as the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles dramatically on Pentecost, a third awareness began to develop. Jesus wasn’t just “out there.” Jesus was in here! Jesus was living within the hearts of the first believers.
The sense of Jesus living in the hearts of his followers is well brought out in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Luke is the only evangelist to write two books – a Gospel and then the Acts of the Apostles. He alone told us the “rest of the story,” of what happened after Jesus’ Ascension. Amazingly, the first followers of Jesus begin to look and behave a lot like Jesus.
A few examples: Jesus died forgiving his executioners. St. Stephen dies forgiving his executioners. Jesus healed people. Soon the Apostles are healing people. Jesus met opposition from religious leaders. The apostles soon meet opposition from religious leaders.
Gradually it dawned on the first followers that the same Spirit that animated Jesus now animated them. They were other Christs! Jesus was alive outside of them but he was also fully alive inside of them!
This third awareness led to the fourth. If Christ was alive in them then what happened to him would happen to them. If they shared Christ’s death they would share his life! Gradually they became aware that this Jesus came, not only to share God’s life with us, but to share God’s eternal life!
The fifth stage then became obvious. They wanted to tell others about this. They wanted to tell others who this Jesus was, what kind of life he had come to bring to us, and that if we accepted this life we would live with him forever. Who could keep such an awareness to themselves? It would be like discovering the cure for cancer and then refusing to tell anyone.
Christianity by its nature is a missionary religion. It doesn’t seek to impose its beliefs on others (that’s been done unfortunately) but to share its beliefs with others. What amazing beliefs: God has entered history as a human being! God is sharing God’s own life with us. God is inviting us to live with him forever.
History has been and is being changed by these beliefs. To have a relationship with this Christ is to hold the key to the meaning of life. Fear is replaced by love. Guilt is replaced by forgiveness. Cruelty is replaced by caring. Dying to self is the way to life. And mortal life is ended not in mortal death, but mortal life is followed by eternal life. What message could be better? Inner peace. world peace. eternal peace – it’s all possible if we believe in this Risen Lord!