By Bishop Kenneth Untener, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Literally, the Greek word is nekros, “corpse.” Why do you look for him among the corpses?
The Greek Orthodox Easter Service at St. Mary Magdalen Church on the Mount of Olives begins on Holy Thursday at 11pm and lasts until around 3:30am Easter Sunday. At the end of this long liturgy, the Patriarch comes out of the sanctuary, before the iconostasis, and shouts to the congregation, “He is not here; he has risen!” And he does this not once but many times, walking among the congregation and shouting loudly the good news. Each time the congregation shouts back at him, “He has risen indeed. Alleluia!”
That is a dramatic presentation of a reality we don’t know much about and cannot capture or express because it escapes experience. We don’t experience human beings passing through death, decay, into some new metamorphosed manner of living beyond death, as resurrected people. The post-resurrection “appearances” of Jesus are just that–“appearances.” They are real but not quite accessible to us who have not yet made that journey through death. The risen Christ lives among us, but we know this only by faith.
If we have no palpable experience of resurrected life, nonetheless, in creation God has supplied us with a thousand parables of that hopeful experience of transformation. As we recognize more deeply our planetary oneness and our solidarity with all species of our world, we might become more aware of these natural symbols of death and resurrection all around us.
There is an apple tree outside my office window that is never picked, and the rotting apples provide food for birds through most of the winter. Each year the brown dead winter branches with rotting apples hanging from them look like they could never grow green again. And then each spring they blossom into white flowers, and new apples form, to fall and rot again when winter comes. Seeds die and vegetables, grains and flowers grow. Ugly larvae transform into butterflies.
Those on the other side of death cannot share that glorified life experience with those on this side of death. We believe in the resurrected Christ living in our midst now, but we do not see as Thomas saw.
One day we shall emerge from death and see plainly, but here and now we emerge from the baptismal waters and see only with faith, which gives us hope, and we try to live in love and solidarity as sisters and brothers with everyone. We befriend all creatures, and even the earth that is home for all of us. For that too will be transformed.
To live a resurrected life, to be transformed in glory, we must follow after Christ through death, and for that we have the advantage of his example, as he did not. Christ has already died and is risen, and will lead us through it. And after us, creation itself will be “set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). We can learn better how to read the parable of the apple tree with its thousand blossoms every spring, a parable of transformation full of hope.
This reflection was written by Bishop Kenneth E. Untener in the reflection booklet, The Spiral Journey: Lent 1995. To read any of the reflections and resources from throughout Lent 2012, click here.