Resurrection is a hard sell. One would think it would be easier than suffering and crucifixion, but ironically it isn’t. No one alive today is unaware of the ordeal of suffering and pain: in themselves, in the people they love, in their own cities and countries. Unfortunately, we are also acutely aware of the sufferings of people around the world through the media. We can see on our televisions and media devices the horror as it unfolds from natural disasters and from evil inflicted by others. We can see the effects of torture and death on the evening news as clearly as if we stood on Calvary looking up at the Son of God as he was dying by the hands of those who hated him.
But resurrection is another story. It’s not enough to believe in the suffering but we are also called to hope in resurrection. It helps to look at the passion and resurrection story of Jesus to begin to break through the mystery of a risen life.
In the chaos of a Jerusalem Passover more than two thousand years ago, Jesus was taken by night and turned over to the authorities by Judas, one of his own disciples. He was moved around from Pilate to Herod and back. There were no 24-hour cable stations so news went by word of mouth. Confusion reigned. The murderer Barabbas was released. Jesus was condemned to death. His disciples followed at a distance at first. We know this by the story of Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus to the servant girl. Then they seem to disappear. The only other mention of any of them being around is of John at the foot of the cross according to the Gospel of John.
After Jesus’ death and burial, his friends and followers huddled in fear in an upper room in the city. Their fear wasn’t unfounded. If the authorities were after Jesus, they were probably threatening anyone who supported him as well. A few days later the women go to the burial site to anoint the body again with spices. They find the empty tomb and Mary meets Jesus in the garden. Word quickly spreads that Jesus is gone and yet here. Again confusion reigns. Was his body stolen as a final act of cruelty by his enemies? Was Mary of Magdala crazy? Resurrection of a real body was hardly within the realm of possibility.
It took multiple appearances of Jesus to his disciples before it could take hold in their consciousness that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead. And it took time - approximately forty days of this in-between time of living with the risen Jesus before they began to absorb the mystery fully. Even then those early followers needed a unique intervention of the Holy Spirit to become people of the resurrection. It wasn’t just Jesus who rose; it was also all his followers.
They finally rose from their fear and intimidation by the religious and political leaders of their day to a life of freedom and joy. From then on, they become people on fire with hope and trust. No matter what anyone threatened them with or what actually was done to them, they kept on singing and praising God and caring for each other and for the neediest among them. They kept on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. This is when they became Christians who were known by how they loved one another.
This is resurrection. To live a risen life is to bear the pain of suffering, to confront the evils of hatred wherever they appear, to embrace the neglected, to welcome the stranger, to love as Jesus loved, without fear. It is to live in hope regardless of situations that seem hopeless. Resurrection is not an act of will; it is grace acting on us. It is the Christ appearing among us when and where we least expect it. Resurrection is not just what happens to us after death; it is how Christ lives in our difficulties and joys every moment of our lives which are so precious to him, moment by moment, day by day.
Sister Patricia McCarthy is provincial for the Congregation of Notre Dame. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.