We see the phenomenon of difficulty in recognising truth in many more mundane ways to. It can take people along time to accept the truth that an abusive partner won’t to change and they cling for a long time to the belief that the latest punch or slap or insult will be the last. When someone is convicted of a crime, it often takes those who have known them a long time to believe that that person could have been capable of such an act.
It takes a long time to accept and embrace new truths, in part because we don’t like our existing beliefs to be up-ended, and partly because it takes so much effort and thought to change our beliefs. This Easter, reading the stories told variously by the four evangelists, I have been struck by how honest they are about how hard it was for Jesus’ disciples to accept, and come to terms with, and embrace the fact, that he had risen. On Easter Day, we thought about how quickly everything has happened, from Jesus entering Jerusalem to Jesus being laid in a tomb. We know from our own lives that it can take a long, long time to come to terms with the death of a loved one. That is especially so if the death has occurred suddenly, or violently, or to someone young. All three of these applied to Jesus. The disciples and the others in Jesus’ inner circle had no time at all to come to terms with his death. The women had not even been able to complete the rituals of burial by the time he had risen. That’s one reason why they found his resurrection so hard to accept.
And here’s another. It was just so unexpected. So unlikely. Impossible really. Certainly, Jesus had spoken about it, but often he had used metaphors and anyway, it seemed impossible, so why waste effort learning to believe in it in advance. Certainly, they had seen, or at least heard about Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus, but these were miracles performed through the power of the living Christ, a logical extension, if you like, of the power to heal.
And here is another reason. People like things to be explicable. If something happens, we like to be able to explain the reason. In our age, we turned to science. In earlier ages, people turned to legend or the supernatural to explain the hitherto inexplicable. Neither science nor superstition have the tools to explain Christ’s resurrection. But faced with certain incontrovertible facts – the stone rolled away, the tomb empty and the grave clothes abandoned – and by some witness testimony from the women which they weren’t sure whether to believe or not, they were naturally spending time trying to make sense of it all.
Luke tells us that it was while the eleven and their companions were talking that Jesus appeared. No wonder they were terrified. They leapt to the first available conclusion – this must be a ghost. But Jesus asked them why they were frightened and had doubts. Quite a lot of this sermon so far has been devoted to answering that question. He showed them his hands, and feet, and invited them to touch him. What a mixture of emotions they felt. Joy and disbelief were mixed up together. He asked for something to eat. You can imagine that they must have been wondering if this was real. One of them handed him a piece of fish. As he put it to his mouth, they must have wondered if they would be able to see it going down. But they couldn’t, because he was not a ghost. He was alive.
He talked to them. Luke just gives what must surely be a very brief summary, just enough to point his readers towards the scriptures Jesus quoted. We should not be deceived into thinking that it all just became perfectly clear there and then. Such a fundamental change in belief takes a long time to make.
I think it is important for us to recognise this for two reasons. One is about ourselves and one is about other people. For us, it tells us that faith is a struggle. Christianity asks us to believe and accept things which our rational minds rebel against. But it is in doing that that we open up to new possibilities, possibilities of relationship with God through Christ, and therefore of relationship in Christ with God’s creation and with each other. When we enter, through resurrection, into relationship with God in Christ, we enter into the fullness of the experience of the love of God. It is always there, but it is through faith that we feel and know it. That’s what makes the struggle made by the disciples, and everyone else since who has come to faith, worthwhile.
Understanding how hard it is to accept the truth of Christ’s resurrection ought also to affect our mission. We cannot reasonably expect people to hear the good news and simply and immediately accept. Human beings are not like that. It takes time. It takes patience, and it takes believers being prepared to be alongside those struggling with faith for a long time. Instant results very rarely bear fruit, as Jesus himself reminded us in the parable of the sower.
And here’s another thing. Resurrection is frightening. It so deeply contradicts everything else we expect and know to be true. So we shouldn’t be surprised that many remain deeply sceptical. Our task, at least in part, is to help others to confront their fear, as the disciples and their companions did for each other, while Jesus stood among them, eating fish.
But the primary reason resurrection is alarming is not because it is so unexpected. It is because it calls for a response. Christ’s change from being dead to being alive changes us and challenges us. Once we accept it, we cannot go back, only onwards – onwards with Christ into the uncertain adventure of faithful service.