Easter Sunday - April 4, 2021
Father Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D.
St. Columba's Episcopal Church
Isaiah 25:6-9 + Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24 + 1 Cor 15:1-11 + Mk 16:1-8
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! I speak to you today in the Name of the Three-in- One and One-in-Three. Amen.
“The Light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
The enigma of light is an apt subject to consider on this Easter morning when the light of Christ has triumphed over the darkness of death. Indeed, light is the very source of life on our planet. Without the light of the Sun we simply would not be. And yet we are hardly able to understand this mysterious thing called light. It is able to travel faster than anything else in our known universe.
And clear categories for understanding it continue to elude us. Is it a particle or a wave? These would seem a contradiction – it must be one or the other. Yet our understanding of light, our measurement of light, and our experience of light continues to insist: it is both. Not in a way that vacillates between one or the other, but in a mysterious way that seems to be both at once, much of it depending on our observation at the moment.
Mystery, as we are learning, is not merely the realm of religion, but evermore so the outcome of our deepest scientific inquiries about the universe. The more we know, the more we realize how much we don’t know. And it is from this foundation that I wish to share some brief reflections about this most holy feast of the Resurrection.
Let’s be clear, to proclaim “Christ risen!” is not to proclaim “Christ resuscitated!” Unlike Lazarus, whom John tells us was indeed “resuscitated,” Jesus will not die again. Unlike Lazarus who is brought back from the abode of the dead, Jesus is resurrected because he comes from the realm of God – pure life.
Neither is this day a celebration of a “mystical” resurrection, revealed to the first believers through some altered state of consciousnesses or spiritual enlightenment.
Paul, for example, is quite clear in describing such mystical experiences in which he is elevated to the “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:1-4) from his reference we heard today in 1 Corinthians. In his growing list of people to whom the risen Christ appears he concludes “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor 15).
This appearance is a reference to his encounter with the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus – in which Christ approaches him from the “outside” as it were, not as an interior vision or through an altered state of consciousness. It is an encounter with a living person – indeed a confrontation which literally changes the course of his entire life, sending him inexorably on a path to martyrdom.
The resurrection of Christ we proclaim today – if it is to bear any continuity with our scriptural witnesses, or with the long trajectory of Christian tradition, is neither a metaphor, nor mystical encounter, nor an allegory for the triumph of death over life. It is a moment grounded, rooted, and encountered in history. Christ is Risen!
Indeed, the language of the evangelists grapple with the historical facticity of the Risen Christ: John reports that the first disciples ate breakfast with the Risen Jesus at his invitation on the shores of Tiberias (John 21). Acts of the Apostles reports similar culinary experiences with the risen Lord– indicating, or so it seems, the early church’s struggle convey what no prior experience had prepared them to understand.
Or again, how are we to make sense of Jesus “appearing” to his disciples through solid walls and locked doors, yet in the same moment, able to be touched by the Apostle Thomas as a solid body? We have not context or categories by which to compare these apparently competing experiences. Perhaps not unlike the competing experiences of light as wave and particle.
To be sure, the resurrection is not merely historical, if by that we mean it is limited to the realm of space-time as, for example, would have been his physical birth, his teachings around Galilee, his public crucifixion, and his bodily death, as it were.
As some theologians observe, the resurrection is at the same time meta- historical, occurring within history, yet leaping beyond it: transcending space- time altogether, and thus introducing a new type of event for which there is no prior comparison. An event that was perceived objectively (that is, historically) yet cannot be categorized or limited to a singular moment in past history.
No doubt you will notice the Easter proclamation is not “Christ was risen” – denoting a past moment which has come and gone in history. No! Today we proclaim, “Chris is risen!” – an affirmation of the continuity of Christ’s Resurrection which leaps beyond space-time into the Eternal Now.
And thus, unlike Jesus’ earthly life and death, located squarely in the past, the Resurrection is not merely a punctiliar event (that is, an event which happened and is now over). Rather the resurrection we proclaim today leaps beyond space-time and thus constitutes an ongoing reality.
Indeed as I reflected in my brief sermon at our Vigil last night, the resurrection marks the difference between “whether Jesus merely was or whether he also is.”(1) Whether he merely was a great teacher who taught and lived in the past, or whether he is a living, active, vital presence still dwelling in our hearts today.
And here we see the vital link between Crèche and Cross, Christmas and Easter, the Birth of Christ and the Resurrection. From the moment Mary conceived in the womb by the power of the Spirit, the Word-Made-Flesh never ceased to be incarnate—even now as Risen Lord.
In other words, the incarnation refers not only to the birth of Jesus but more fully to the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension—or what we refer to simply as the Christ-event. That is why Christian spirituality can never be conceived apart from the material universe. Nor can the incarnation and resurrection be limited to a singular moments that occurred in the past but, by the power of the Spirit, remain an ongoing and ever-expanding reality.
The Australian theologian Anthony Kelly has observed, that “Incarnational faith is not confined to the empty tomb, nor to the past history of episodic appearances of the Risen One. For his ascended Body is the limitless sphere of the church’s present mission and eschatological hope, with Christ present to his disciples in every time, place, and nation.”(2)
Indeed it is through the Christ-event that Christians understand the meaning of all that precedes him in salvation history and all that proceeds from him. Thus, Vladimir Lossky’s assessment that the incarnation is the point of departure for all Christian theology does not undermine the significance of the Paschal Mystery we celebrate today, but is in fact the only way to make sense of it.(3)
There is an intimate link between Christ’s incarnation, passion, ascension, and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, which can never be understood apart from one another. In the ancient cosmology of the Evangelists where Heaven was “up,” Hades was “down,” and Earth was caught in between, we can understand the metaphorical language with which the early church grappled to say something meaningful about Christ’s resurrected and glorified body (Acts 1:9-11).
But the era of Christ’s appearances in the New Testament signaled by the gospel today did not give way to a distant or absent Jesus now ascended into another place. Rather, here we glimpse the trinitarian dimension of salvation: the ascension of Christ to the Father, inextricably linked to the descent of the Spirit.
If God is omnipresent, then what else is the ascension but the attribution of that same omnipresence to Christ? Precisely insofar as he is “seated at the right hand” of an omnipresent God (Mark 16:19), Christ too must now be understood not as having gone anywhere but having gone everywhere.
Again, as Kelly rightly observes,“Jesus’ risen and ascended life is [but] a new phase of the incarnation, [which promises] a new mode of presence rather than the blank fact of absence. . . . That is to say, the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ inaugurates a new expansion of the incarnation and, consequently, a new way of relating to Christ (Col. 3).”(4)
As we will see some 50 days from now, that new way of relating to Christ is ushered in by the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, whose deifying presence forms the very sinews of Christ’s body among the members of the church. The Easter tradition of discrete appearances of the risen Christ dissipates in history, not because Jesus has gone away to some distant heaven but because he has made of us his very body through grace.
The punctiliar resurrection of Christ in history now expands to an ongoing resurrection in each of us, in each moment, in every last atom of our universe, in every particle and wave of light. Christ is risen not anywhere but everywhere. On this day of the Resurrection, let us not flinch from the boldness of our proclamation “Chris is risen!” Let us not reduce our understanding of this day to tidy explanations -- any more than our science has tidied up the apparent contradiction that light is both wave and particle.
Let us not diminish the vast incomprehensible mystery of the resurrection to a proclamation that finds its home in the suffocating confines of our rational minds. Let us not decide whether it must be a moment in time or one that transcends time, a moment in history or one that transcends history – when in fact, the only approach is to profess boldly: it is both. Indeed, let us, even for just today, proclaim loudly and unapologetically the good news, the GREAT news, unfathomable, mysterious and incomprehensible news this day heralds! And let us proclaim it not merely with assenting minds but with joyful our hearts:
CHRIST IS RISEN! CHRIST IS RISEN!
CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED!
And may the Risen Christ be with you now, and remain with you forever.
+ The Three-in-One and One-in-Three. Amen.
(1) Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. III, 242. (2) Anthony J. Kelly, “ ‘The Body of Christ: Amen!’ The Expanding Incarnation,” Theological Studies 71 (2010): 729–816, at 800. (3) Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction , trans. Ian and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), 36.
(4) Kelly, “TheBody of Christ,”801–2.