THE joy of Easter lies in the fact that the Crucified One is now risen and present in our midst, bringing life to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. In a context that just a few months ago was unimaginable, we are called to live out that resurrection faith — witnesses to a life that the forces of death and destruction cannot overcome.
God’s new creation bursts forth from the place of greatest desolation. In his earthly ministry, it was those who stood furthest from these powers who understood Jesus the best. And it is to two such women, who were faithful to the very end, that the risen Lord appears and gives his first greeting. St Peter Chrysologus explains that “this greeting itself evidently shows that the full figure of the Church abides in these women. They are contrasted with those disciples whom Christ scolds who were wavering over the resurrection.”
The women are told to “tell my brothers to go to Galilee.” This is where Jesus’s ministry began, and where he originally called the Twelve. The resurrection does not erase these humble origins, but, rather, shows them to be a locus of divine presence and power.
Paul writes to a community that struggles to believe that divine glory is contained in such humility. As Marianne Meye Thompson explains, the Colossians are being misled by false teaching in which “the body and the realm of this world needed to be left behind in order to attain to visions of God” (Colossians and Philemon: A Two Horizons New Testament commentary).
In contrast, the spiritual life commended by the apostle does not flee the world, but sees it “from the perspective of Christ . . . through the realities demonstrated in Christ”. Paul is reminding the Colossians that, in the resurrection of the Crucified One, the heavens have already been thrown open to them.
Paul counsels the Colossians to focus on what they already possess in Christ, and to be receptive to the signs of Christ’s presence and action in the world around them. Paul’s contrast between things above and below “in no way denies the significance of life lived below; rather, it brings to bear upon earthly realities the ‘pressure’ of the heavenly realm”.
This is the dynamic that we see being played out in Acts, as Peter’s preaching of his risen Lord is accompanied by a demonstration of divine power. As Willie Jennings explains, Peter’s sermon comes after patient listening to the testimony of the devout Gentile Cornelius.
This receptivity must stand at the heart of all Christian proclamation of the resurrection — “listening for the word of God in others who are not imagined with God, not imagined as involved with God, but whom God has sought out and is bringing near to the divine life and to our lives” (Belief — A Theological Commentary on the Bible: Acts). Often, the risen Lord addresses us through those who we do not imagine will have a word to share.
As he preaches, Peter has a new-found humility. This is the fruit of his experience of the Paschal mystery: of his desertion and denial, and the subsequent forgiveness of his risen Lord. He simply describes himself and his fellow disciples as “witnesses”. His testimony concerns Jesus’s liberation of those who were “oppressed by the devil”, and Jesus’s triumph over the powers and principalities who “put him to death by hanging him on a tree”.
The only action that Peter ascribes to the disciples is that they “ate and drank with [Jesus] after he rose from the dead”. The reference to food and drink is made to emphasise the materiality of Jesus’s resurrection. After listening to Cornelius and preaching the Good News, Peter once again finds himself a witness, as God acts decisively by sending his Spirit on these Gentile believers.
We bear witness to resurrection hope in the midst of great suffering and death. We do not have a set of glib or easy answers. Instead, we have the assurance that Christ and his apostles have walked this way before us, and found in it the way to life eternal. We are to be a “pilgrim Church” that “sings the songs of freedom in the midst of its bondage. . . As we move into the heart of the storm we will sing but we will keep on walking” (The Eye of the Storm).