Practicing resurrection

Sunrise looking out of a round opening in the rock.
 on April 2, 2024

One of my favourite biblical stories is the account of the raising of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. According to John, Jesus receives news from the sisters Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus is sick. Jesus is delayed in arriving in Bethany, declaring “this illness does not lead to death, but it is for God’s glory.” By the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus is already dead and buried. The crowds have gathered, the stench of death is in the air.

When Jesus comes to the tomb, he weeps the tears of a friend, deeply grieving. And then he declares that Lazarus will live again because, as Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”

Next, Jesus stands before the tomb and commands, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man emerges from the tomb very much alive but still bound by his burial clothes.

One of the reasons this story of the raising of Lazarus is so important is because it points to the resurrection of Jesus himself. Some details in the two stories are strikingly similar: a tomb sealed with a stone just outside Jerusalem, several days between death and the raising from death, grave clothes, astonished witnesses, a new life where there had been only death. The raising of Lazarus foreshadows the resurrection of Jesus.

One of the other key similarities is that those standing by are invited to participate in the new reality. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus orders the bystanders, “Unbind him and let him go.” Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, but he wants others to help set the man free for his new life.

After the resurrection of Jesus in John’s gospel, those who encounter the risen Jesus are also invited in. To Mary Magdalene, Jesus tells her to go and tell the others. To the other disciples, Jesus tells them to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive. To Thomas, Jesus invites him to reach out, touch and believe. To Simon Peter, the risen Jesus shares breakfast and commands him to feed his lambs and tend his sheep. The response to the resurrection is to be invited into it – to practice resurrection as we seek to be more and more like Jesus.

How do we do that? How do we practice resurrection? Well, first of all, by trying to take in the enormity of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. All the broken promises, lost opportunities, destructive ways and old animosities are washed away as we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Exsultet, that ancient hymn proclaimed at the Easter Vigil, describes the effect of Jesus’ resurrection: “The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy. Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth, and we are reconciled with God!” The resurrection of Jesus turns the world upside down and sets it aright.

But secondly, and as a result of this realization that the world has changed forever through Jesus’ resurrection, we recommit ourselves to live as his followers. That means doing as he did: bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4:18) To practice resurrection means to clothe ourselves in the risen Jesus, and that means seeking to change ourselves and the world through this power.

Thirdly, we practice resurrection by practicing joy. We cannot receive this amazing gift of new life in Christ without it changing the way we see ourselves, one another and our world. Christ has won the victory over sin and death. In this, we rejoice!

Many theologians and hymn-writers have expressed this joy of resurrection through the centuries. One of my favourites is St. John of Damascus (translated by John Mason Neale). It is the final verse of one of the most beloved Easter hymns:

“Now let the heavens be joyful; let earth her song begin!
The round world keep high triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen their notes of gladness blend.
For Christ the Lord is risen, our joy that hath no end!”

This Easter, may our practice of resurrection draw us closer to the risen Jesus and one another. Christ is risen, so we are risen. Alleluia!


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