“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”
We are now in the season of Easter, a season that will take us right to the 24th of May weekend. It’s a time to enjoy the longer hours of daylight and the warming of the weather. It’s a time to start wondering when the ice will be off the lake. And a time to watch for the trees to bud and the leaves to appear. It can also be a time to think about what it means to live in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of resurrection in our own lives.
Matthew’s Gospel tells an unusual resurrection story in association with Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Jesus died on the cross, Matthew records, “The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” Matthew 27:51-53
Many years before this, the prophet Isaiah praised the Lord because there would be a resurrection of the people of God. “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy — your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” Isaiah 26:19
Those that were raised from the dead had lived faithfully, had walked in the ways of the Lord and had died under the oppression of nations that had dominated Israel. Isaiah sees a time when the Lord’s judgment would hold these nations to account and then he would raise his faithful ones from the dead.
Something like this is happening in Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus rose from the dead, not just out of a tomb, but out of a corrupt, oppressive and unjust state and empire. Before Jesus was crucified we learn from Matthew that the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem made plans on how to have Jesus
executed. After Jesus rose from the dead, these same leaders instructed the guards to lie about the absence of Jesus’ body in the tomb, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised
a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of
money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’” Matthew 28:12-14.
I don’t think it is too much to suggest that Jesus’ crucifixion mirrored the corruption and injustice of the state and empire that killed him.
Jesus rose from the dead as a clear answer to the unjust violence and hatred that had killed him. God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Jesus was rejected and cruelly murdered. He met the same fate that the nation of Israel would experience a few years later at the hands of the Roman army. God’s answer? Resurrection from the dead as a vindication of Jesus and judgment on all that was wrong with the State.
And, a limited resurrection of faithful “holy people,” who returned to their neighbourhoods and lives.
Jesus’ resurrection was not “a hope of everlasting life when you die” for the women and men who first experienced it. Jesus’ resurrection was the catalyst for their mission to the peoples of Israel and the Empire.
Over the next few years, the lives and work of the disciples was patterned after the experience of Jesus. They proclaimed the risen Christ as King of Israel and the true Lord of the Empire, and eventually most of them were killed for their loyalty to Jesus and disloyalty to the State. A similar pattern, involving people who had embraced Jesus as their King, being persecuted, punished and even killed by the government under orders from several Emperors. Yet, resurrection hope continued to motivate these Jesus followers.
If resurrection hope is relevant to our daily experience, then how might we live in this reality in a practical way? A good hint comes from Wendell Berry. In 1973, Berry published the poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. In the last line of the poem he coins the assertion, “Practice Resurrection.”
To practice resurrection Berry examines common experiences in our culture and finds them powerful and ultimately undesirable. He starts his poem, “Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbours and to die.”
Then he advocates ways of living out from under the influence of powerful cultural desires. “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.”
Berry imagines that there are many false trails that we can follow that will fail to get us to the destination we want. Practicing resurrection or resurrection hope can be our motivation expressed by walking together in love for one another and the world we live in.