Stanley Spencer painted several Resurrections. They portray his vision of the new community, of which we have been made a part. He does not imagine resurrection as a one-by-one event, paralleling our human experience of how people are individually and serially born, receive Baptism and die. Instead, Spencer sees resurrection as a community event, which may be more true to Scripture than what most of us anticipate.
Here we see several people in a churchyard busily tending the graves of departed loved ones. Suddenly, they are surprised by a reunion with those who have gone before. Departed fellow-members of the Body of Christ, their arms joyfully upraised in a dance, gather with the eucharistic community here on earth. Resurrection is an interactive celebration, involving not just those we have known and remember, but also those we have never met.
Spencer’s resurrection paintings reverse what we imagine. At death, we think of individual persons lifted-up, out of this world, into his presence with those on the other side. But Spencer depicts our reunion with them as taking place on this side! And he is profoundly right. For when we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we are baptized into the communion of saints, with whom we are now in active fellowship. Some of them first lived centuries ago. Others live with us today. Yet, in every eucharistic moment, we are all one and together, in the community of Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection community is permeated by beauty, by the beauty of his holiness.
But who has seen or touched the resurrection of Jesus? Spencer helps us see the answer: All of us! All who now live in the fellowship of his resurrection. John speaks for us in his first letter, when he refers to “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, … and touched with our own hands, concerning the word of life.” We think of the resurrection as something that happened to Jesus. Yet, we would not be celebrating his resurrection unless it also happened to the disciples.
His resurrection transforms every one of us. Not just one-by-one, and away, to dwell with the departed. Resurrection brings the company of the departed here, into our midst. Through Baptism, we can expect transformation within us, as individuals. We should also expect transformation between us in community! For in our fellowship with one another, we see and touch the beauty Jesus’ resurrection.
Resurrection: Rejoicing (1947), by Stanely Spencer (1891-1959). For the quote from John, see 1 John 1:1. Click here for a link to my Easter Sunday homily, on which this is based.