As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”
I love Mark’s casual description of the disciple’s perplexity: “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” It’s so easy for us to be hard on the disciples. After all, they’ve been with Jesus all this time, they’ve heard his predictions, they’ve watched his demonstrations of power, and they’ve listened to his teaching. How, we wonder, could they have possibly failed to understand and believe all that Jesus said.
And then comes this statement, reminding us that the question is always easy when you already know the answer. For, indeed, what could this “rising from the dead” possibly mean? We take resurrection for granted because it’s been at the very heart of the Christian faith since the beginning. But prior to their experience of the risen Christ, how could the disciples possibly imagine what Jesus was talking about? Their best guess, given their question, is that the end of the world was coming. And so they ask about Elijah, who tradition taught would return before the end. Silly disciples, we say to ourselves.
But I wonder if we really do understand what Jesus means. Yes, we’re familiar with the idea of resurrection. But do we actually expect it, understand it, look forward to it, experience it? Is resurrection, that is, anything more than a religious idea or pious statement of faith for us?
Let me try to put this another way. Friedrich Nietzsche was said to have once commented about the Christians of his day, “Why don’t they look like they believe in resurrection?” What would that mean, I wonder – to look like we believe in resurrection? How would we deal with difficulty? How would we treat others who are less fortunate? How would we regard our money, our careers, the time we spend with family and friends?
Trust me when I say that I’m not sure of the answers to these questions. But I am increasingly convinced that our present day equivalent to the disciples wondering, “What does this talk of resurrection mean?” might be “What difference does resurrection make to day-to-day lives?” And if, in the end, we can’t answer that question – if, that is, we don’t ever look like we believe in resurrection – then we might also wonder why are we Christian at all.
Prayer: Dear God, let the resurrection be real for us, shaping both our faith and our actions in this world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Post image: Fra Angelico, The Transfiguration, 1442 (detail)