No doubt many believers are like Martha, the sister of Mary, who mourned the passing of their brother Lazarus with the declaration, “I know my brother will rise again on the last day.”
Martha finds consolation in her belief in the resurrection of the dead but she still postpones the resurrection as long as she possibly can. She understands it to be an event that will occur in the distant future, at the end of the world, “on the last day.” But Jesus quickly corrects his friend Martha. Jesus declares, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life.” Here Jesus carefully employs the present tense.
Jesus is informing Martha that she does not have to wait until the end of time to enjoy the fruits of his resurrection. She can experience the power of Christ’s resurrection right here and now. Jesus is saying, “Martha, if you allow me to be your Lord and Savior, if you make me the center of your life, if you will welcome my Spirit and my Gospel into your heart, then the vigor of my resurrection can be yours this very day.” Commitment to the Risen Christ begins transformation into the Risen Christ. Belief effects conversion.
Jesus’ words to Martha hold true for every generation of believers.
The resurrection is not simply an end of the world occurrence. Resurrection is an ever-present experience. The power of Christ’s resurrection first surges into a believer’s soul at the moment of baptism.
Then every Mass the believer attends, every time Communion is received, every line of Scripture that is read, every sin that is repented, every prayer that is uttered, every act of charity performed, every step made toward justice, every virtue strengthened and every vice lessened, serve to build up in the believer the potency of Christi’s resurrection.
Easter, then, is not only the celebration of Christ’s bodily resurrection and continuing glorification in eternity. Easter is also the celebration of the believing community’s progressive transformation from repentant sinners to converted saints. Believers, first made whole in baptism, must daily grow more and more into the likeness of the Risen Christ.
Resurrection for the Christian believer is not just an historical memory revived every spring nor is resurrection simply a momentous event in the distant future. Resurrection is the sum and substance of the Christian’s daily life, transforming and conforming man’s once sinful human nature into the image of the resurrected Savior.
Resurrection belongs to the present moment just as much as it belongs to distant past or to the remote future. Resurrection began two thousand years ago in Christ, continues now in his church, and will be brought to completion in heaven.
New England’s own Emily Dickinson, sometimes called the nun of Amherst because of her reclusive lifestyle, would hardly qualify as a model parishioner. While her personal habits were wholesome, she shunned the liturgical involvement that is so essential to the full Christian life. A poem that commemorates her religious isolation nonetheless also celebrates her insight that the believer does not have to wait for the last day to enjoy the fruits of the Christian life.
Some keep the Sabbath
going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
Miss Dickinson would surely agree that the resurrection is not “at last;” the resurrection is “all along.”