Have you ever had that experience of seeing something you thought you knew in a radically new light, so that it seems like you are seeing it for the first time?
Not long ago I had a similar experience whilst on retreat with the monks of Alton Abbey. During the week I was reading a book by James Alison, the contemporary Roman Catholic writer, which threw new light on to the unique event of the Resurrection of Jesus, bring its meaning into relief in a fresh, new way. We all know that the Resurrection of Jesus so impacted upon Jesus’ first disciples that it turned their world upside down. But while life could never be the same again for them, what was it that actually made the difference?
Alison describes the Resurrection of Jesus as a gratuitous act of God. Neither Jesus nor the disciples deserved or merited it, God just did it; his was an act of sheer gratuitous, generous love for Jesus and the world. And what was the effect upon the disciples? They knew themselves to be forgiven, simply by the presence of the Risen Jesus in their midst. But God’s forgiveness didn’t merely irrupt into the lives of Jesus’ disciples and stop there. No, experiencing God’s gratuitous act of forgiveness sent them to the ends of the world as missionaries. They just couldn’t help themselves!
We shall shortly celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, and what then? Will we just say to ourselves, ‘That’s Easter done and dusted for a year’, and then go back to our usual routines?
It is too easy (and too safe and comfortable) to try to pack the Resurrection up in a box marked ‘history’. But if we do so we will, tragically, miss out on the new and abundant life which God desires to give us. Surely, none of us wants to do that, do we? If Jesus Christ was risen then, he is risen now; if Jesus Christ transformed the lives of the early disciples, then he can and will transform us now. The risen Jesus so impacted their lives that there was no way that they could go back to their routines. Their world had changed.
But to what extent has life changed for us? The fact is that whenever we genuinely encounter the Risen Christ, we experience God’s gratuitous love and grace, his forgiveness and also with it, a commission… to go tell others. Life should never be the same again for us. But we do have a choice...to follow Christ or to ignore him, to obey him or defy him.
Will we allow ourselves to experience afresh his gratuitous forgiveness, so that we will not be able to help ourselves in telling others? Will we this year, set our hearts and wills to follow him, to echo the words of St Paul? He said, ‘I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.’ (Phil 3.10)
For if we truly seek to follow the risen Jesus today, he will make us his agents, missionaries within our community of God’s gratuitous love and grace, and his forgiveness. I cannot think of any greater message, nor any greater privilege. Can you?
A very happy, joyful and transforming Easter to you all.
With love and prayers,