By Kathleen Staudt
In his book on Resurrection, Rowan Williams points to the strangeness of the Risen Christ. Though we have stories of Resurrection encounters, the risen Jesus is always at first unrecognized. Some fundamental transformation has happened, and that transformation testifies to an altogether new relationship between humanity and God. Everything has changed.
This is something that I think is not widely understood about Christian spirituality: People know, we know, that we are called to “follow Jesus,” to try to live as he lived, and we are often judged by the degree to which we fall short of his example and his teaching – and that is fair enough. We ask “What would Jesus do?” to guide our ethical thinking. But in fact, when Christians reflect on our relationship to “Jesus,” it isn’t really the historical Jesus we’re talking about, or even, completely, the Jesus we meet in the gospels. It is, more mysteriously, the Risen Christ, who belongs at once to our flesh-and-blood experience and to the transcendent mystery of God – who brings together, once and for all, our humanity and the God who reaches out to us, loves us, desires the restoration of our lives and our world.
This is a tough thing to get our minds around but I think it is the heart of the gospel, the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The resurrection proclaims the action of God in history and yet moves beyond history. We proclaim it in our Easter liturgies without always noting the extraordinariness of what we are proclaiming. Listen to our words: “On this day the Lord has acted/We will rejoice and be glad in it” is the Easter psalm. Or in the words of Brian Wren’s hymn, Christ is alive, let Christians sing:
Christ is alive, no longer bound to distant years in Palestine.
He comes to claim the here and now, and conquer every place and time. (Hymnal #182)
For Rowan Williams, the Resurrection removes Jesus from being simply an object on whom we project our fantasies, our woundedness, our desires – because he is in some ways, as utterly strange and unknowable, as God is . And yet he also invites us into relationship.
At the Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Md., we sing with gusto gospel hymns that actually teach us something quite profound about the relationship with the living God that Resurrection faith opens up to us.
“I serve a risen Saviour, he’s in the world today,” we sing. “He lives! He lives! From him I’ll never part. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” (Lift Every Voice and Sing, 42)
Or in another hymn that particularly moved me this year:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives. (LEVAS, 43)
These hymns are emotional rather than theological in focus, yet they help us experience the result of Resurrection faith, the conviction that the world actually IS in God’s hands, that the redemption of the world has happened, is being fulfilled, and we are called to participate the work of transformation that continues.
So when we think of Christian faith and life, the question to ask is not just “What would Jesus do?” (i.e. how can I best follow the example of the Jesus I meet in the gospels) but “What is Jesus doing?” How is the life of the Risen Lord shaping my life, and the life of the communities I participate in, in the here and now?
Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.