Thomas Merton’s He is Risen: Living Easter part 1

‘He has risen,

He is not here…

He is going before you to Galilee.’

(Mark 16: 6-7)

The booklet-homily He is Risen is Thomas 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.

‘Christ is the Lord

of a history that moves.

He not only holds

the beginning and the end

in his hands,

but he is in history with us,

walking ahead of us

to where we are going.’

Christ is not static but a reality 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 a personal and real 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.’

‘True encounter with Christ

liberates something in us,

a power

we did not know we had,

a hope,

a capacity for life,

a resilience,

an ability to bounce back

when we thought

we were completely defeated,

a capacity to grow

and change,

a power

of creative transformation.’