Resurrection Community

Beauty and Resurrection

Stanley Spencer_the-resurrection-reunion-of-families-1945

Stanley Spencer’s church cemetery visitors find themselves surprised by being found! They experience being found through a resurrection encounter with those who have gone before.

The resurrection of Jesus is not usually something we go looking for. The risen Jesus comes and finds us. This is the pattern we see in so many of the stories of Jesus’s first resurrection appearances to his friends and followers. The disciples and others don’t go looking for him except at first, when they go to the tomb. And even then, they are seeking Jesus’ mortal remains rather than his risen presence. He comes and finds them, just as he finds us, often in the context of fellowship. And like them, we are always surprised.

We don’t find the resurrection just as we don’t find God. Neither God nor the risen Jesus are lost, even if we may be. And so, we are found by both, and then we find ourselves as persons who have been found. This is instructive, for it corresponds with our apprehension of, and encounter with, beauty —which we also misleadingly credit ourselves with ‘finding.’ Really, beauty finds us. For our perception and recognition of beauty depends not on a ‘power’ that we possess to pursue and attain it, but rather on our ability to receive and recognize what is, and what is given. The same is true in our apprehension of, and encounter with, the grace of the resurrection.


Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection – Reunion of Families, 1945.

Community Permeated By Beauty

Stanley Spencer_the-resurrection

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.