‘On the third day he rose again.’ Such is the bald statement in the Creeds. But why does this give hope that you and I and all of us will, like Jesus, be brought after death into eternal life?
Let us admit that we are totally out of our depth in talking about the resurrection of Jesus, because it was a divine initiative. The best place to start is from God’s viewpoint. God’s question was: ‘How can we get across to the disciples that divine love conquers even death, and that Jesus will bring people through death into eternal life and joy?’
The disciples had seen that Jesus had brought several people back to life -the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. This gave them some hope about death. But now Jesus himself was dead. Death seemed to have conquered him. To be brought to believe that in his dying, Jesus had overcome our death, the disciples would need a great deal of convincing.
So the divine Persons decide that the risen Jesus – the same, yet different – will encounter the shocked and hopeless disciples. He will meet them in their ordinary lives and gently draw the veil. Gradually they will recognise him. They will realise that he has come back to them, to bring them – and you and me – into the divine dimension of reality where he himself is.
The resurrection of Jesus was planned by God, not by disciples who were trying to retain their credibility after the ignominious death of their leader. It was a divine initiative, a bolt from the blue. Caught totally off guard, the disciples only slowly became convinced that something dramatic had happened, and that it changed everything. Their faith in the resurrection of Jesus was based on the encounters they had with him. They tell us that they met him, not once but over and over, in the Garden, in the Upper Room, at the Lakeside, in an Emmaus inn. As for the nature of these encounters between the risen Lord and the disciples, they are outside our experience. But we must not spiritualise the massive realism of these encounters which occurred on the border between God’s world and ours. The world, of course, is not simply ‘ours’ but also God’s.