It’s easy I think (though it seems not so easy for some), in the predawn birdsong of early spring, to pause in gratitude for the annual renewal of the earth. William Alexander Percy thought no one could listen long to that song, “A song so mystical and calm, / So full of certainties,” except on one’s knees (see his poem “Overtones”). Surely that’s the first response to news of resurrection. But while I can turn and bow to the cardinal in yonder tree, where do I turn to bow to the risen Christ?
Matthew’s gospel offers some clues. The risen Christ (Jesus says) will be found in the one who is hungry or thirsty, to whom I might offer nourishment and refreshment; in the foreigner (the undocumented alien) to whom I might offer hospitality and sanctuary; in the one who is naked (exposed, vulnerable, defenseless) whom I might cover with respect and protection; in the sick, the infirm, the suffering, to whom I might offer real care, not the hope-you-feel-better-soon kind; in the prisoner, one segregated from society as a result of personal misdeeds or by the judgment of the majority power holders, to whom I might offer personal, face-to-face companionship and reconciliation.
If Easter is our celebration that new life has burst the bounds of old life, that the living is not to be found among the dead, the past (Luke 24:5), then we might well look toward where Jesus points. Of course, we’re not going to find the risen Christ in anything that looks like the old form. We won’t recognize it until, as Frederick Buechner wrote, it steps out of the shadows and speaks our name.
Is the spirit of the risen Christ to be found where the impulse to do what he says is experienced in unchurchy ways? – helping to feed the hungry by providing an adequate apportionment of food stamps; showing hospitality to the stranger by supporting the growth of sanctuary cities; caring for the sick by advocating for adequate social services, education, health care?
It’s too easy to bow toward the risen Christ of our imagination, who will appear some time in the future. The hard work of Easter is to bow to the risen Christ who walks among us, disguised as “the least, the last, and the lost.”