Jesus is the resurrection and the life

26 March, 2023 5th Sunday Lent Year A

The Resurrection is central to the Christian faith. Yet it is probably one of the most misunderstood doctrines. What does it mean to say Jesus is risen? What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us?


In today’s gospel we are presented with the story of the raising of Lazarus, which is intended to point towards our Easter celebrations of the resurrection of Jesus. It is also intended to stress the unique character of Jesus’ resurrection.


The writers of the New Testament make clear that Jesus’ resurrection was not like the raising of Lazarus, a resuscitation of a dead body. The gospels have several stories of Jesus resuscitating the dead: Lazarus (John 11:1-44); the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:21-43); and the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). What makes these people’s experiences fundamentally different from that of the resurrected Jesus is that all three were raised and would live on for a while; but would eventually die again.


By contrast, Jesus would never die again and his risen life would be very different from the manner or nature of life he had lived for more than three decades among his family, friends and followers. After his resurrection, Jesus could walk through walls (John 20:19). He was not immediately recognised by some of his closest disciples. He seems to have “appeared” to numerous different people in differing situations. He could walk along with disciples on the road to Emmaus and, then, simply “vanish” (Luke 24:31).


It is also true to say that, after the Resurrection, Jesus was the same person whom his disciples had known and loved. They recognised his voice. They touched him. They shared meals with him. Much of this serves the gospel writers’ concern to emphasise the physical character of Jesus’ appearances. Still it bears testimony to the corporeality of the disciples’ experience. Jesus’ resurrection was that of a human being, not just some disembodied spirit.


Of course, the resurrection of Jesus is but a portent of what God has in store for all who believe – as Jesus says in today’s gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).


It is remarkable that all the early Christian texts known to us signal that the ultimate hope of the earliest Christians was the resurrection of the body.


For those first Christians and for us, Jesus’ resurrection was only part one of an eschatological drama that must await a future fulfillment with the second coming of Christ, when all who believe will be raised and transformed into a new reality where there will be no suffering or death. We will live on.


The story of Lazarus points towards this future!

Ian J Elmer

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