Resurrection, renewal and rebirth

During April I’m going to look at Thomas Merton’s writings on the resurrection and these are edited extracts from the keynote talk given at the 2016 Thomas Merton Society conference. The full talk which includes extracts from Merton’s Journals and my further reflections will be in the publications section of the web site.
The Easter homily published in a booklet as ‘He is Risen’ is Merton’s most extensive reflection on the resurrection of Jesus, and fundamental to Merton’s thinking is St Paul’s insistence that the resurrection is not simply an event that happened to Jesus; it is also something that happens to us: Merton believes that we are called to experience it in our own lives. The work of the Easter homily is based on chapter 16 of Mark’s Gospel, when the women come to the tomb seeking for what they can only think of and imagine is a dead Christ. For Merton the danger is that Christianity can become in itself merely a cult of the dead body with implications for our own state of being half dead or half alive. Instead it is the cross that makes the resurrection possible.
I worked for six years for the Church of England in Bath and Wells, and spent a lot of time meeting clergy discussing various concerns in different parishes. On one occasion I visited the team rector of a large parish with many problems and after a difficult meeting the vicar and I spoke about where we got our inspiration from. Imagine my delight when it turned out that we were both avid readers of Thomas Merton. It was this vicar who so kindly photocopied the whole of ‘He is Risen’ and sent it to me after explaining that it was these words from Merton that enabled him to keep going year-on-year. So what was it that so inspired him and what did he find from these words that he couldn’t find anywhere else? From talking to him it was the dynamics of resurrection consciousness and that through Merton’s work he found a Christ that is not static but who moves ‘walking ahead of us to where we are going.’ This invitation, says Merton, is dependent on our willingness ‘to move on, to follow him to where we are not yet, to seek him where he goes before us – to Galilee.’ There are two things required of us: one is that we are called not only to ‘believe that Christ once rose from the dead but we are called to experience the resurrection in our own lives by entering into this dynamic movement … The dynamism is expressed by the power of love and of encounter.’
Merton goes on to say that Christ leads us through mutual encounter to a new future which we build together – the kingdom of God which is at the heart of the Christian faith, and so the resurrection rather than merely being seen as historical fact becomes the life and action of Christ in us through his Spirit. Above all else resurrection consciousness has to be personal and real – where ‘true encounter … awakens something in the depth of our being, something we did not know was there.’