The Resurrection in Us
Adrienne von Speyr
Auferstehung in uns
Publisher:Saint John Publications
Translator:Adrian J. Walker
Mary Magdalene hurries to the tomb with the devout women. Every pious person of the time would know and understand their purpose. They are following the custom of their culture and their people in taking care of the body of their dead friend. Obviously, their gesture also expresses their own loving, tender concern for the deceased. What it doesn’t reflect, though, is anything like a hope in the Resurrection. On the contrary, they’re bringing herbs and spices to make sure he has a proper burial this time. And it’s while they go about their business—amazed the stone has been rolled away—that the world of the Risen Lord begins to unveil itself. First the angel of the Resurrection delivers the message to the dismayed women. Then Magdalene receives an appearance of the Lord in the form of the gardner. She sees him standing before her, but the figure she beholds with her eyes doesn’t match the picture she imagines with her mind. It’s not that some part of her is resisting faith in the Resurrection. It’s just that the faith hasn’t been given to her yet. This, despite the fact that she must have preserved the Lord’s promises his Resurrection somewhere in her memory. But the Lord’s words are hidden there, and he alone can reawaken them to life by the power of his own life. What happens to her and the other women, what happens to the Apostles, is a sign for the Christians of the future. No one can have faith—and Christian faith is one with Resurrection faith—except by the grace of the Risen Lord himself. His Resurrection is not some fact available for neutral observation. The Risen Lord gives himself to be known. He discloses his new life in the freedom of his grace. This grace calls to life the word of faith—the word hidden in the inaccessible recesses of the believing soul—and summons it to a living answer. While the Lord lies in the tomb, the word of faith also lies buried in souls; it is wrapped in burial cloths and walled off in a sealed grave. The disciples and the women are not unbelievers, despite the fact that the Gospels speak of their “unbelief and hardness of heart” and the rebuke it earned from Jesus. But their faith is as if frozen; the night of death has made it narrow and stiff. The encounter the Risen One is what finally raises up their faith to the life of Easter. The Son is the Word of the Father who rises from the dead to eternal life. But the faith that’s in us is also a presence of the eternal Word in grace.
Paul repeatedly says that we have died and risen with Christ. Unless we had risen with the Lord, we could not grasp his Resurrection. This co-resurrection enables us to experience something of what the women got to experience with the angel and the Magdalene got to experience with the Lord himself. We, too, must bring together for the first time—and ever anew!—what doesn’t seem to belong together: what we think we know (“this man is the gardner,” or “the Lord died, so he is dead”) and what we have become—people who see him, people who speak with him or with his angels. The synthesis is the Lord’s creation. We have already become part of the world of his Resurrection in our being. Now he ignites this light of being in our consciousness, which, still lagging behind, remains in Holy Saturday. In rising, he has made us into Christians, and it is our task to realize it.
Today, however, our encounter with the miracle of Christ’s risen and glorified body doesn’t happen only in naked faith. It happens in the Eucharist. This mystery reveals that the Lord didn’t seek to rise for himself, but so as to impart to his people what he became in the Resurrection. He rose in eucharistic self-outpouring. The Risen Lord doesn’t merely give himself to be looked at like some pretty picture. He gives what he is and places this gift within us. We’re not merely supposed to see and understand, we’re also supposed to be. Just as he bore all our sins in his body with overflowing excess, he wants to give us a share in that body with the same overflowing excess. He wants to incorporate us into his living, risen body, which he does by making us into his Church. Within this body—its complete actuality and its outpouredness—is the Church, our membership in it, and our loving exchange with one another. It’s only thus that what he became man for succeeds: his plan to bring the God-alienated world back to the Father. He himself rises from the dead, lives in his body by the Father’s eternal life, and gives this eternal bodily life to his Church.
One can of course learn these truths by rote and interpret them in a dry, academic manner. But this isn’t the only option. One can also understand them according to their original intention: as a personal experience, in the same way that the meeting with the gardner who revealed himself as the Lord turned out to be an unforgettable personal experience for Mary Magdalene. The overwhelming event happened to her; from then on, she had living faith. This personal experience of being risen with the Lord, this mutual coincidence of consciousness and being in ecclesial faith, is permanently offered to, and reserved for, us in every holy communion. The body we receive contains the mystery of the Resurrection—never-senescent, eternally young and active—which seeks to work in us like the yeast straining to raise the mass of dough. The Risen one wants to be that yeast for every bit of living word the Father placed in us at our creation but we bury more deeply with every passing year. The Resurrection is our chance to become the people the Father wants to see us be. The Easter message is good news for all who take part in the Easter mystery. It’s true that Jesus’ contemporaries enjoyed a participation in it that spoke to their senses and thus offered an exterior aid to experiencing what they shared in. Inwardly, though, their experience was just as dependent on the Lord’s illuminating and elevating grace as is ours. They got back in sensible form what they believed they had lost, but it’s not as though we received anything less when we embrace the living gift of faith. We’re constantly tempted to think we’ve lost the Lord—perhaps irrevocably so—by our sin, our tepidity, our intractability. And just as constantly he gives himself back to us, restoring to us the gift of an un-looked for purity we had given up expecting. Purity through absolution in Confession, which is then sealed by holy communion, our participation in the most pure body. Again and again, it’s the same miracle—made really, corporeally present.
The child preparing for holy communion looks forward to it as something exceedingly great, something that from the start towers far above all the limitations of our life and our capacity for understanding. This expectation grows until the actual ceremony itself, and it marks the child’s entire life. If we, too, could become like children again, ready to welcome the kingdom of heaven, ready to believe as the Lord would have us do, then we would look forward to Easter with the greatest reverence and the liveliest hope. In the knowledge that what’s coming is made to become limitless in us, to be something that bursts open the graves of our habits and our rigid, stale notions. It’s for us, after all, that the Lord has risen, for us that he keeps this event ever alive, so that we might batten on it in his living Church. This is the Church he himself created entirely on the pattern of the Easter mystery.
In all its feasts and celebrations—feasts of the Lord and his Mother, feasts of the saints, feasts of the Church’s ceremonies and shrines—the entire liturgical year is always about the same thing: the fact that the Lord has risen so as to go with us to the Father and, by dying into risen life, to draw us into his conquest of the heavy inertia of sin.