When we read the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, we notice that certain words or phrases are often used. “So they [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8). In Matthew, we read, “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matt 28:8). Luke tells us that they remembered his words, “and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (Luke 24:9) In John’s gospel, many of Jesus’ disciples saw the stone rolled away from the tomb. “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (John 20:8)
Each of the evangelists has a different take on how the witnesses to the resurrection reacted to the event. But the general tone was that certain words stand out: amaze, astound, terror, joy. Note what the evangelists do not say: quiet, reflective, even prayerful. We have an interesting challenge when we look at the practice of prayer. How can we pray, how do we pray at moments when we are amazed, astounded, terrified and joyful? How can we pray well when we encounter the Risen Christ?
I think back to the moment when I met the Risen Christ. Back on January 31, 1974, while standing before the ocean on a California beach, I gave my life to Christ. And I remember then being struck with awe and silence. The Risen Christ now was real; I had an “empty-tomb” moment. I was astounded. I was amazed. The next day, as my college roommate and I drove back to campus, I sat silently in the passenger seat. He said, “You’re just a sack of potatoes today.” I told him, “I now am a Christian sack of potatoes. I am amazed!”
Over the years, I have had other experiences of the Risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of them was like my initial experience of the Risen Christ. Perhaps you have had such experiences. Perhaps your journey has had some spiritual peaks in your life, or a conversion experience, or an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they were amazing moments, astounding occasions, or moments of sheer joy. And you, like me, were stunned into silence.
There’s a well-known summary of the work of prayer: the ACTS method. The letters stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I have come to understand that, before the Adoration phase of prayer, there’s a time of amazement. Before we can speak or sing in adoration, we are taken in by the experience of knowing God and meeting the Risen Christ.
If you read the resurrection stories, you will notice that the women do not say a word. The disciples do not say a word (though we know that they are rejoicing). The only one who speaks—and doesn’t stop speaking—is Thomas. Yet, when he meets the Risen Christ, all he can utter is, “My Lord and my God.” Amazed indeed.
Open my eyes, Lord; I want to see Jesus, risen indeed! Alleluia!
The Rev. Dr. John R. Throop
President, Executive Council
Anglican Fellowship of Prayer