What to Make of the Risen Christ

resurrection_htmWhen it comes to speaking of the Resurrection of Christ in this Easter season, we often become preoccupied with the question of whether it “really happened” in the way the gospels describe it.  It is a question which, for me, is ultimately meaningless, because we can never get “inside” the experience of those first women and men who came to believe that Christ, though crucified, was still available and present to them.  Instead of pursuing this question, I would like to invite you to make a space in yourself that is able to acknowledge at least this: that the first followers of Jesus experienced him as somehow continuing to be present and available to them following his death; that they named this experience resurrection; and that out of this experience, they were able to proclaim confidently the existence of a Risen Christ. And, I invite you to also acknowledge that their lives were transformed and redirected in the light of this experience.

If we can hold this sort of space open within ourselves, then we can move to what is, I think, the much more important question: what does this mean for us?

One of the things that confounds us about the resurrection is that, in the dualistic way in which we normally think, life and death occupy entirely different categories. Our dualistic mind insists that either one is alive or one is dead, and our normal experience of life seems to confirm this. When it comes to the Risen Christ, we are talking about a dead man who is somehow still occupying the category of “alive-ness.” Let’s be as clear as possible: Jesus of Nazereth is dead. The man who was born somewhere around the year 3 B.C.E. and who was murdered by crucifixion somewhere around 30 C.E., and who was named Jesus, no longer exists. His life came to an end on that cross. Resurrection is not the same as resuscitation, and when we are speaking of the Risen Christ, we are not saying that the body of Jesus of Nazereth was reanimated, got up out of his grave and resumed his life. What we have when we speak of the Risen Christ is a dead man who is alive. In other words, we have someone who is — at one and the same time — both dead and alive. And our dualistic perspective cannot accommodate that. And so one of the first things that the Risen Christ does for us is short-circuit our dualism.

By blowing our dualistic mind, the proclamation of the resurrection is pushing our hearts out of our small self (the domain of the ego, dominated by dualistic thinking) and into our larger self (that deeper, more spacious place where we encounter God in ourselves and ourselves in God).  For it is only in the center of the larger self that we can live with the paradox of a dead man who is alive. As we contemplate this dead man who is alive, we begin to question the nature of death itself. Our dualistic mind sees in death the ultimate limit beyond which we cannot go. The things that support the identity of the small self — wealth, work, reputation — are all things that death overtakes. Consequently, the small self cannot see death in any way other than as extinction. As the mystery of the Risen Christ short circuits our dualistic mind, however, and drops our heart into the larger self, we can begin to perceive that death is not what the small self thinks it is. We begin to perceive that who we are in God, and who God is in us, transcends this limit we call death. We begin to see that while everything that constitutes the identity of the small self does indeed pass away, there is something deeper in us that remains untouched by this phenonmenon that we call death.

And it is that something deeper — the larger self, the “immortal diamond” as Richard Rohr call it: who we are in God and who God is in us — that the disciples saw shining forth when they beheld the Risen Christ. That larger self in which Jesus’ heart was centered, that place of deep intimacy, communion, and oneness with God that established the peace with which Jesus passed through the crucifixion — that is the self that continued beyond the limit of death, untouched and untouchable by death.

And in the Risen Christ we see also our larger self, our deep identity in God that, like Christ, continues beyond the limit of death, untouched and untouchable by death. This is where the good news of the Risen Christ becomes our good news, as well.

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