21.4.15

Edited Guest post: Resurrection as an intensification of the incarnation

Canon Dr Christina Baxter CBE
Former Principal of St John’s Theological College, Nottingham
Former Chair of the Church of England’s General Synod’s House of Laity. 
She has been a Reader and lay canon of Southwell.

Canon Dr Christina Baxter on the resurrection:

Analogous to the feeling perhaps experienced by scientists on making new discoveries with Jesus and his resurrection there is that collision of expectation with reality. We rework what we thought about life before. The Resurrection has the disciples and the followers of the way reshape their understanding. Tom Wright explains how individual resurrection came as a surprise against the Jewish expectation of resurrection as a corporate event.

The church's meditation on this event is ongoing.

Mary came to the tomb and we witness her grief, for as yet, they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead. Christ is transformed but the risen Christ helps us understand our transformation. There was this cruel crucifixion and how was sense to be made of that? This end is no end but a prelude to a beginning. Everything needs realigning and reassessing in the light of this event to the extent that they and we struggle to find words. What has God been doing amongst us?

There is the transformation of Mary and the disciples into bold and proclaiming and confident people. It speaks into the transformation of relationships too. It is the women who tell this story. God entrusts those whom men would not have trusted. These women become the apostles to the apostles. They have an understanding of who Jesus Christ is. He is transformed.

The resurrection is an intensification of the incarnation. Jesus Christ affirms his humanity and the good order in the incarnation. Up to the crucifixion we might have decided that the powers of evil had overcome, that the incarnation had come undone but the resurrection tells us that this is not the case. Crucifixion can not end the incarnation when the incarnate one is transformed and is still incarnate and is eternally incarnate. From this vantage point we look back from the resurrection to creation and we see that creation is indeed God's good work. God affirms his creation. He has made it capable of receiving himself. Resurrection underlines and intensifies creation, so how do we relate to it before general resurrection?

The earth will be transformed as Christ is transformed and so all of this has ramifications. At the crucifixion we understand God as trinity but is it not more, that we need resurrection to understand the trinity?

This is a continuing life, life in the risen and the crucified one. We hold on to the unity of God and so the cross and the resurrection force us to impact every part of our theology.

Resurrection has us approach ecology differently too- this world is committed to resurrection and so we need to rediscover our role as stewards.

This continues to be a challenge and a place for repentance.

But there is this possibility of our own transformation NOW. This is why we believe in the possibility of it for people - the risen Christ performs acts of transformation in front of our eyes. It is right to have a passion for this idea that God is able to change us.

We are to take people as they are because God will transform them. We are not to be in a particular place first because God will equip and we believe that he can change us as we go along.

During that walk to Emmaus in Luke 24, there is that expressed hope that he was the one to redeem Israel. We read this story as the beginning of a meditation about the transformation of the disciples' beliefs. Beliefs are being transformed and their whole understanding of the breaking of bread changes - there are new things to be told now. They were to preach the kingdom and healing but now they preach that he is risen according to the scriptures and we are to discover what all of this means - repentance and forgiveness is located in the resurrection - then there will be the teaching of the Holy Spirit who flows out of the resurrection.

Jesus can appear and disappear and eat. There is a consequent complete 180 degree turn for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they were going one way and now they are going in another direction. If we turn then to the book of Ephesians, resurrection is the expression there – the hope, the riches immeasurable, the greatness, seated in the heavenly places. All things under his feet. We understand the risen one in the light of all that has come before and the foreground of this passage is that in the power of God Christ comes back from the dead and then takes his seat in the heavenly realms and it is this power that is alive in us when we believe.

For us as clergy, where is all the particular significance in this? When we are in the middle of extraordinary pressures, addressing issues and enabling others to access their faith against endless demands, perhaps sometimes we feel we can not do this task, so we pray in the ordination service for the Holy Spirit: the power we need is the power of God to go on the next day and the next day. We need it more as time goes on. God offers the same power as that which raised Christ from the dead, this power is good and life giving, it is generous and it is forgiving. His power makes all things possible. God's power has made possible what has occurred. Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. We are given the power to comprehend things which surpass knowledge.

Resurrection makes it possible for Christ to be in us and transform our understanding of all that has come before. Paul in 1 Cor 15 is a case study in transformation. By the grace of God I am what I am - transformation of our understanding, our selves, our work, our relationships with other people whom we would not have chosen but who are our brothers and our sisters through baptism, in all of this, there is this promise of transformation, of glory into glory - are we cooperating with this?

The transformation of the breaking of bread - it is not a macabre re-enactment or a sorrowful event when the only thing that makes it a celebration is the resurrection - this is how Christ meets us. We constantly have Easter before our eyes. We need to pause before the God so cruelly executed, who comes back to us to give us life. He is the type for our own resurrection. We have a glimpse of what it will be like. It will be grace and it will be gift. He has blazed the trail by going before - as in Adam all die, each will be made alive, Christ is the firstfruits. Resurrection is after the pattern of Christ and this is the power of God which can bring us into resurrection. He has begotten us again in lively hope.

We hold on in the face of the intractable obstacles. This is how we live under persecution where there are moments of extremity and martyrdom because the resurrection teaches us to hope in a future that is God's, that is his.

Donald Capp talks about how we revise the past and talk about a new future. He tells a story of a man in a village whose horse runs away. His neighbours lament for him. He says “We'll see” and the horse returns and brings two more horses. Other tragic events unfold in this man's life but when asked for a response about conclusion and meaning, he is only prepared with his maybes, always open to the possibility of some good that is hidden coming to light. Each time the events that others vicariously lament turns out for the best, even if the best is delayed. We do not understand the reasons for events turning out the way they do until the end because we see through a glass darkly. As we do this we hold on to a vision of the future, of what God will do in the future because we are a part of a longer narrative and in doing this we revise the past and then we see past events in the light of what happens. Pastoral practice or spiritual direction is something like standing near the tomb to see what God will do - or waiting at the tomb of Lazarus to see what Christ will do - we can hold out the hope that God will work here too just as he did in the resurrection - a God who raises Christ from the dead can accomplish anything.

The power of God at work in us is the power of the Holy Spirit. Taking up our cross and being willing is the way that we are made ready to receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes when we are willing to let go of selfishness and by this can walk the way of the cross for the whole of our lives. The resurrection is not about triumphalism. There is triumph but not triumphalism. The power to be like Jesus Christ is power to suffer, the power to have compassion.

The resurrection power of the Holy Spirit empowers us to engage the powers and take the message out. As we have received Christ so we live in Christ as Paul says in Colossians and how we are to live is in the light of what has happened – our life is hidden with God. H doesn't talk about the future-heaven but how it is to be lived out in this life - your life is with Christ in God so that we clothe each moment in peace and love.

The question we are called to ask ourselves has everything to do with how we participate in God's trinitarian life and think about the cosmic Christ and the responsibility we have so that we have the possibility to believe that the ordinary and the routine things that we do are worthwhile because of the resurrection and the victory through Jesus Christ.

My beloved be steadfast, your labour is not in vain.
Amen.

Christina responded to questions from the floor. When someone proposed a metaphorical reading of the resurrection she said that it is an event and can only function as a motif for understanding life because it is a real event first.

Christina also explained how she makes no apology for being orthodox, that this is a conviction that enables her to train people for ministry. She is not adverse to thinking through theology for the common time but not at the cost of abandoning those things that the Fathers found to be true. The scriptures are written because of the resurrection. If we had only had the cross then Jesus' sayings might have been thought worthy to write down and live out. It is all about the Resurrection. It is built on the cross but it transforms us, this resurrection, from perplexity and fear and a running away. It is the light of the resurrection that enables them to see the glory that was the three hours of agony!

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