The Daily Bread, 18.04.20: Trying to limit the limitless
Readings: Acts 4:13-21; Psalm 117(118):1,14-21; Mark 16:9-15
If someone says to you, “aye, that’ll be right!” or “if pigs could fly!”, it means they don’t believe you. The Apostles probably said something equivalent in Aramaic to Mary of Magdala and the others who reported the Resurrection of Jesus to them.
That’s because, despite those reports, and despite the fact that Jesus Himself had said to the Apostles repeatedly that he would rise again on the third day, and despite the fact that Jesus had already raised three other people to life (the little girl, the young man of Naim and Lazarus), the universal human experience was that there was no return from death. And the power of that experience is so strong that, in recent centuries too, Christians themselves have again begun to doubt the reality of the resurrection. There are so-called “non-resurrectionist” Christians. There has been in recent history at least one Anglican Bishop who has said that the resurrection is to be understood figuratively, morally or metaphorically, not realistically. There are also some Catholics who believe neither in the resurrection not in life after death ….
But, as St. Paul tells us so plainly (1 Corinthians 15), if Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. It means nothing. Christ himself is just another good man that lived and died, like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. If there’s no real resurrection, we are still in our sins, without hope. Our destiny is the grave.
But Christ is truly risen! Indeed, that’s why in the early Church, as two people greeted each other, one would say “Christ is risen” and the other would reply, “He is truly risen!” That’s why the story of doubting Thomas who then believed is so important. He believed because he touched and saw the risen Christ. In other words, his faith is based on the senses, on the empirical reality of the holes in Jesus’ hands, feet and side. And while that is a blessed experience, “more blessed still are those who have not seen yet believe”, remarks Jesus.
The resurrection defies the human experience that death is definitive. But Christ is not limited to or by our experience! It is not human experience which is the measure of Christ, but Christ who is the measure of human experience. We must not therefore obey human experience, the “experiential or experimental method”, as if it were god. No, we obey God, the living God, who opens out our human experience to the experience of God.
There’s a second limit that human beings can try to put on Christ, as we hear in the first reading. It’s plain to everyone that Jesus is risen because Peter and John healed the cripple in Jesus’ name. But the Jewish authorities did not want to accept that fact. They still wanted everyone to believe that the Apostles stole the dead body of Jesus from the tomb. In other words, they gave precedence to their own will over the truth of the resurrection. It’s a bit as children do when, being childish and faced with something they don’t like, say “but I don’t want it to be true!” The Jewish authorities did not want Jesus to be risen, so …. he wasn’t! They used their own will-power to invent a fake reality. The fake news is that Jesus is not risen, not that he is!
Peter and John saw through it straight away. When they were told to act as if Jesus was not risen, they responded that obedience to God came before obedience to men. In other words, God’s truth isn’t to be denied because human beings just don’t want to hear it!
Jesus had rebuked the Apostles for their incredulity and obstinacy (today’s Gospel). Their human experience was closing their minds to the possibility, never mind the reality, of the resurrection. Jesus could also have rebuked the Sanhedrin: their wilfulness was leading them to deny the central truth of human history, i.e. the resurrection of Christ. It is the centre of human history because it abolishes the law of death. Even if someone were to be as mad as to want that law not to be abolished, their want does not change the reality. The life of history and the universe is no longer mortal but subsumed into the life of the Risen One.
We, too, need to be vigilant that we are not closed to the ways and truth of Christ because we lay too much store by our own experience or our own will. Christ is greater than these and he wants us to be greater than them too, by opening our experience out to share in the life, the experience, of God and by opening our freedom out to share in the will, the freedom, of God.