The cost of the resurrection

Easter Day 2012
John 20:1-18
Marian Fr
ee

In the name of God whose love for us knows no bounds and who gives everything for our salvation. Amen.

It has never occurred to me before, but when we think of Jesus’ resurrection, we usually do so from our point of view. Think of our Easter hymns: “Jesus Christ is risen today! Our triumphant holy day.” we sing or “Jesus lives! thy terrors now, can no more O death enthrall us.” When we think about the resurrection we think about what it has achieved for us. Because Jesus has risen we too will rise from the dead. Jesus has won the victory over death. Death is no more to feared. It is not the end, but a beginning. Our attention is so taken with the benefits for us – “Christ died for our sins, and was raised for our glorification” – that I suspect few of us (including myself) have thought about the resurrection from Jesus’ point of view.

If we have, we have thought how marvelous it was that Jesus’ trust in God was repaid by his resurrection from the dead. Jesus went to the cross not knowing what was on the other side, and his obedience was rewarded by his coming back to life. Jesus’ resurrection is his greatest triumph. From the same perspective, we view the crucifixion as Jesus’ greatest sacrifice and do not consider the possibility that the resurrection comes at as great, if not a greater cost than the cross.

So you might imagine that I was surprised and challenged to think of the possibility that from Jesus’ point of view, the resurrection might have involved a greater sacrifice than the crucifixion and the descent into hell.

In her poem “Ikon – The Harrowing of Hell ”, Denise Levertov suggests that none of Jesus’ experiences – the coming to earth, the rejection by the world, the betrayal, the abandonment by his friends, the flogging, the derision, the cross and even the descent into hell – could compare with the cost to Jesus of the resurrection. It’s an extraordinary idea. How could anyone contemplate that Jesus’ rising to life again was more costly to him than all the shocking and painful events that went before? How, we ask ourselves, could Jesus’ resurrection be anything but the most amazing victory, the confirmation and validation of all that he had come to earth for?

Levertov’s poem describes Christ’s descent into hell, the release of the prophets and the innocents from the grip of death and his leading them to Paradise. That done, she writes, Jesus must return to the earthly world from which he came. Unlike those whom he had freed from the place of the dead, Jesus cannot return to Paradise – not yet. He cannot return to the place from which he originated, take his place once more beside God in heaven. Instead, his task in death complete, Jesus must return to the dark confinement of the tomb and be wrapped once again in the blood stained shroud. Then he must break free once more – not to hell, nor to a heavenly existence, but to a continued life in the world, a life that is bound and limited by time and human flesh, hunger and thirst .

Jesus’ resurrection has not freed him, as we might think but has, at least temporarily, imprisoned him in this material world once more. Even though, as the poet suggests, Jesus is “aching for home”, longing to put on once again the garment of immortality and the body of imperishability, Jesus must remain on the earth – to give to his friends the assurance of his continued presence, to allow them the privilege of serving him and to give to us all confidence in his promise of eternal life.

As if death were not an high enough price to pay for our salvation, Jesus must continue to pay by returning from death to an earthly life.

It seems like an absolute contradiction of all that we know. To us Jesus’ crucifixion – his dying for us seems to be the ultimate sacrifice. However, seen from Jesus’ perspective the resurrection represents an enormous sacrifice – greater than any he has yet made. For our salvation, Jesus entered human existence. He put off immortality and put on human flesh. Even though he was equal to God, he humbled himself and was obedient even to death. As a human creature, he experienced hunger and thirst, pain and sorrow and finally the ignomy and desolation of the cross.

Imagine knowing immortality and choosing to share our mortality – that would be sacrifice enough! If not that, then surely death on a cross would do the trick, but no, even the cross is not the end. Finally, when Jesus might be free of it all, free from his mortal body and free to return to his eternal home he, unlike those whom he has released from death, must enter the world again and endure once more all its constraints – not for himself, but for us.

So next time you think of the cost to Jesus of the cross, spare a thought for the cost to Jesus of the resurrection.

It seems no price is too high to pay for our salvation and that whatever the price, Jesus was prepared to pay. Thank God.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia

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