Stephen Neill, the great missionary bishop of this past century, once reflected on the disciples’ slowness to understand the resurrection. He wrote that, even after rationally accepting the reality of the bodily resurrection, even after seeing the nail prints and watching him eat — thus confirming that he was not a ghost or a phantasm or a shared delusion brought on by cognitive dissonance — the disciples still had a spiritual problem that took time to overcome.
For the actual challenge of the resurrection runs much, much deeper than mere knowledge of the resurrection and acceptance of its “science”: that, in this case, cells that died were restored to life. As Neill said, we suffer from an “unresponsiveness of the will that does not wish to have all its favourite ideas and inclinations overthrown by the invading power of the love of God.”
The resurrection overturns the order that we have not only come to accept but also come to rely on. Even when we lament it, wringing our hands, we still look at the whole cosmos according to a particular pattern, an orthodoxy of our own making. The bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus challenges the order of this world, shaking and shattering it. The love of God invades and overthrows, revealing that the world does not have to be the way it is, and indeed will not. Violence and war, hate and avarice, pain and tears; the stones hurled at Stephen in our passage from Acts, and thrown at martyrs today; and death itself: all of these are being overcome, now.
In John 14, Jesus marvels at Philip: have you been with me this long, he asks, and yet you still do not understand? Perhaps we can imagine Jesus laughing at Philip in a loving way, rather than scolding him. After the resurrection, there is room for the risus paschalis, the holy laughter of Easter. We should revive this tradition of the late ancient Church — perhaps with champagne on Easter Sunday morning before worship, or even through the whole of the Easter season. We ought to laugh at ourselves, because every Christian has one of these Philip moments. Maybe we have several such moments throughout our life.
Jesus’ rhetorical incredulity, his marveling at Philip, is not the doleful head-shaking of his earlier ministry: “How long must I suffer you?” (Mark 9:19; Matt. 17:17). Now Jesus speaks in a completely different tone: he reaches out, putting his nail-scarred hands on Philip’s anxious, tense shoulders, and shaking them just a little bit. “Philip! I am the way; if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
The challenge is not the possibility of bodily resurrection, though that has served as a stumbling block for some. The challenge is the death-dealing order of this world itself, saturating our spirits. But even this will be overcome. Life will come from the very tombs that we insist upon.
Look It Up
Read John 14:9.
Think About It
What obstacles stand in the way of accepting the resurrection?