Chapter Talk

Resurrection and Prayer

The liturgy over Holy Week and Easter makes use of the language of ascent, of upward and outward movement.  For example, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem; He is raised up on the Cross, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert.  St. Maximus of Turin, in the Vigils lesson for Monday of the Easter octave pursues the idea after the Lord’s death.  “The underworld is opened by Christ’s resurrection … and heaven is unlocked by the Holy Spirit: for the underworld now that it is opened, returns its dead (i.e. they come forth, ascend from their tombs).  The earth having been renewed, brings forth the risen, and heaven once unlocked, receives those ascending.  At last the thief ascends into paradise, the bodies of the saints enter into the holy city… and all the elements by a kind of progressive movement, betake themselves to the heights in the resurrection of Christ….By one and the same operation, the Saviour’s suffering lifts up from the depths, raises from the earth and gathers in the heights.”  Even the fish in the resurrection appearance by the lake of Tiberias come up out of the depths of the water to be caught in Peter’s net, not so fanciful an application, if one remembers that the fish are a figure of the souls of saved mankind.

Sergius Bulgakov in The Lamb of God draws attention, on the other hand, to the continuing receptivity of the Lord, even after His resurrection.  The Resurrection itself, the raising of Jesus, is not, he says, an act of self-glorification; He receives His glory from His Father.  The Resurrection is an act of the whole Trinity.   While it is true that Jesus has power to take up His life again, i.e. to raise Himself, He is raised by the right hand of the Father, insofar as He is man, possessed of a human nature.  The Resurrection and Ascension are something done to, accomplished upon, the God-man.  During the days before the Ascension, His kenosis, in a sense, continues, according to this view.  He is still receiving; still open to the Father’s word; still obedient.  This is essentially the attitude of prayer.  Therefore, it is true to say that His prayer continues as it did in the days of His flesh.

Let us, for a moment, apply these notions of ascent and receptivity to ourselves. First in relation to our life in the Spirit, as a whole, secondly in relation, more specifically, to our prayer.  The dispositions of the Risen Christ must also be ours.  We have been raised, set free from darkness and the tyranny of the self.  We have returned from the dead, not by our own power, but by the life-giving death of Jesus.  Heaven has become unlocked for us.  If then we are made free and are being gathered together progressively in the heights (see Maximus), then we are meant to act as if we were free.  We possess the dignity of the children of the household; the joy of the household of the blessed is already ours and we are able to grow steadily into that joy with each passing day.  No looking back to the prisonhouse of the past or of the self.  Like the Risen Lord before the Ascension, we have not yet entered into the fullness of glory but the way is now open.  There is nothing to impede our upward movement.  At the same time, receptivity, openness and obedience are the necessary conditions for this growth in the Holy Spirit and in our joy and new life in Christ.  The element of asceticism, so pronounced in Lent, is, for the moment, in the background.  God is waiting to pour His life into us.  Our ears, our heart need to be open to receive it.

We can say similar things about prayer, since prayer is the expression of our life in Christ.  It is true that we are warned not to be wedded to spatial imagery in prayer.  (The ‘Cloud’ is particularly keen that we should avoid it, for example), but there is little doubt that we do often associate prayer with an ascending movement, a going upwards and outwards, as well as with a descending and interior movement into the heart.  Psalm 140:2 sums up the ascending aspect of prayer:  Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight; the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.  This simple image is fundamentally an affirmation of the transcendence of God; on the other hand there are passages in the Gospels where His immanence is strongly affirmed.  Abide in me and I in you.  (Jn. 15:4) The Spirit of truth… dwells in you and will be in you. (Jn. 14:17) and very clearly, If a man loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him. (Jn. 14:23).  And, of course, the indwelling of the Spirit is everywhere in St. Paul.

Because God is Other, because we are not speaking about pantheism, there is always a simple intention, however slight, directed Godwards in prayer, a ‘naked intent’ in the phrase of the ‘Cloud’, whether we perceive God as transcendent or immanent.  This involves a movement of faith, hope and love, a giving of the whole person to God, a making of one’s life and being over to God.  But if there is a giving, there is equally a receiving, which is a listening, a readiness, an alert quiet of spirit.  Our spirit, then, seeks both to give and to receive in union with the Spirit of Jesus.  This is the Holy Spirit Who both desires in us and is the One desired by us.  Evelyn Underhill puts it this way: “The homeward journey of a man’s spirit may be thought of as due to the push of a divine life within answering the pull of a divine life without,”  or Blessed John Ruysbroeck, more ecstatically:  “These two spirits, that is, our own spirit and the Spirit of God sparkle and shine one into the other and each shows the other its face.  This makes each of the spirits yearn for the other in love.  Each demands of the other all that it is; and each offers to the other all that it is and invites it to all that it is.”



This, then, is the divine atmosphere, the divine reality and interchange into which Paschaltide plunges us, whether we are conscious of it or not.  This is a matter of faith not feeling.  In communion with the Risen Lord, we are set on the way to glory, ascending in spirit to the Father and descending into our heart to await, to receive Him there.