Awareness and full faith in the resurrection of Jesus only dawned on the disciples gradually and progressively. What was key to this coming of faith was that they were open to the various signs – pointers, if you like, leading them to full resurrection faith: the empty tomb (far from a convincing sign!!), the folded burial garments and the rolled away stone. These strange and perplexing things were a doorway into a great mystery. The disciples (and we too) sensed that they were on the threshold of something wonderful and life changing but they did not yet have a full Easter faith. A process needed to take place.
Read John 20 and 21 and you will see that this process took place over a period of time and over a number of resurrection appearances of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. The climax came when St John says to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ (John 21:7). This is the moment of full resurrection faith and the moment each of us needs to arrive at in our own lives.
St John understood in this moment that Jesus, the Lord, was no longer present merely to the eye but he was the Lord of Creation, the Lord who feeds his flock, the Lord of the living and the dead, the Victor over sin and death. The question we all have to ask is: how do I progress into the fullness of Easter faith? For unless we progress into this full Easter faith how can we be witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and proclaim confidently that Jesus is Risen?
We see this fullness of resurrection faith witnessed and proclaimed by Peter before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin: ‘And we are witnesses to these things and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). It is clear that those who have received the Holy Spirit are called first to be witnesses of the resurrection.
We can learn from John 20 and 21 about how we progress into this full resurrection faith. For John this faith comes through understanding the ‘signs’. For John Jesus is a mystery to unfold and discover. – the very revelation of God. This mystery is revealed as we put our faith in the signs which point to this great mystery of faith, for great is the mystery of God. John’s Gospel is a book of signs. Those who see the actions of Jesus as signs put their faith in them and are thereby drawn into an experience and understanding of Jesus as Risen Lord. Thus we see with Mary Magdalene moving from the one who had prepared his body for burial to her recognizing him and addressing him as ‘Rabboni’ – this was a solemn address often used when speaking of God.
Finally, this remarkable woman of faith, the first witness of the resurrection, witnesses to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’. For Mary the signs progress – first the empty tomb, then the angels, then the appearance of Jesus and her personal experience of the Lord conversing with her. Here Jesus tells her not to cling to him (to the earthly reality she once knew) and that he is ascending to ‘my Father’ and ‘your Father.’ She sees each of these signs and progressively, stage by stage, penetrates into the mystery of the resurrection, knowing that Jesus is the Risen Lord. A radical progress has taken place in her through her following the signs.
Of course, the same process takes place with the disciples. They are also presented with signs, not only the empty tomb but also the witness of Mary Magdalene. They are slower to believe and need further signs of Jesus’ resurrection. We see this very much with Thomas who insists on further evidence – the marks in his hands and side. On seeing them he proclaims: ‘My Lord and my God’. Finally, at breakfast which Jesus cooked, and after the great haul of fish, they all proclaim: It is the Lord.
Finally, there is one more element to this progression of faith. Jesus breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). It was the gift of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to fully grasp that Jesus was the Risen Lord. In this moment is fulfilled Jesus’ words: ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own authority but whatever he hears he will speak and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (John 16:13-14).
The Holy Spirit then is the One who reveals the mystery of Jesus as Risen Lord. We too can come to a renewed faith in the resurrection of Jesus by following the signs. What signs are provided for us? Primarily it is the witness of the liturgy we celebrate during Lent and supremely on Easter Sunday. We see the liturgical signs of the Risen Christ – the paschal candle, the community of believers gathered together, proclaiming Alleluia, Christ is Risen! We are those the Lord referred to when he said: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.’ We also have the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is only because Jesus is glorified that he could send the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: ‘It is to your advantage that I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (John 16:7).
Do you know the presence of the Holy Spirit in your own life?
Have you experienced the Scriptures come alive and your heart burn within you?
Jesus is the Risen Lord because it is he who has poured out the Holy Spirit into your heart.