In the last two weeks a number of people have asked me to explain why the Risen Christ showed himself to the women and to his disciples in so many different ways that often seem quite strange, so I thought now would be a good time to look at them in more detail and answer some of the questions I have been asked.
First of all, it’s no good trying to understand the nature of the Risen Christ by comparison to any other human experience. The Resurrection is a unique moment and there is nothing like it, except perhaps the Big Bang when the Universe was created – another unique moment. Sometimes we call the Resurrection the New Creation!
One person suggested to me that the Resurrection might be a Hologram, and then immediately he said it, realised this wouldn’t make sense. They didn’t know about “holograms” in those days, but they knew about ghosts, and the Risen Jesus says clearly (Luke 24:39) “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Yes, they can touch him, just as we heard last week when Thomas needed to touch him before he could really believe what was happening. Today’s Resurrection story(John 21:1-19) like some others, (Luke 24:30) also tells us that the Risen Jesus ate with them – which is certainly not something that ghosts or holograms can do!
Yet the risen Jesus also comes to them mysteriously even when the doors in the room are locked, so he is clearly not simply a body come back to life again! No, he is in some way transformed, and his transformed body is only visible to them for a short while at certain times. These times, the Resurrection appearances, are clearly given to them by God to assure them that this new Risen Presence of Jesus is absolutely real, and will last for ever.
St Paul says that we too will be transformed like this when we die, if we trust in the saving power of Jesus. And because he compares our transformation to that of Jesus, we can learn more about what the Resurrection is like from him. He writes : “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?.. How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body….. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
But be careful here, for by “body” Paul does not mean our flesh, but rather our whole being. He wants us to know that when we die in Jesus, then as we leave the physical dimension and enter the spiritual dimension, we will be like Jesus, so that however much we are transformed, we still keep our identity.
One of the other Easter questions I was asked comes in here, because although, as we have heard, Jesus encourages them to touch him and to eat with him, he tells Mary Magdalene when she touches him, not to cling on to him. (John 20:17) Clearly this is because the Resurrection is not about clinging on to the past, of having Jesus back just as he was before, but is the power of God sending them all, and us, forward into an unknown future. We too can cling on to that part of our faith that has helped us most, and can be reluctant to let God take us on to where we would rather not go.
And that, you see, is just what the Risen Jesus predicts for St Peter at the end of our Gospel today, “Somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.” (John 21:1-19) Here, Jesus is pointing Peter on to that moment many years later in Rome when he will not deny Jesus as he had done previously. Jesus, by his threefold questioning of Peter, asking him 3 times “Do you love me” has purged Peter of his threefold denial and prepared him for his future role as the leader of the early Church.
Just as there are many different stories in the Bible of how the Risen Jesus appears to people in different ways, so it is for us. Although we may not see him, we still experience his Presence, and that Presence will be different for each one of us. Sometimes we need comfort and reassurance, and at other times we need to be challenged and given courage. Of course, we may be challenged when we would rather be comforted, but in the long run God knows best, and we are better simply saying to him. as Peter said to Jesus “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” And Jesus says to us “Follow me.”