These are all glorious images no doubt, fit for the season. But what kind of image do they evoke in us of Jesus? For most of my Christian life I have seen in the resurrection the active, victorious Christ which no one or thing can keep down. This is a Jesus as heroic Savior, battling and winning against the “powers and principalities.” For many centuries the church has proclaimed this biblical image of Jesus, and has called the church to walk in the way of the Risen Christ.
I have accepted this image of Jesus for many years, mostly without thinking about it. After living in L’Arche, however, and being in relationship with people with intellectual disabilities, I began to ponder the Easter mystery anew. Most of us probably imagine Jesus as the strong divine agent, and thus identify Christian discipleship as following in that way. But what about those people who have very little agency or potential for agency? Next to a Jesus who is binding the powers of the universe, people with profound disabilities look very anomalous. The temptation to see them merely as helplessly incompetent recipients of someone else’s rescue become almost irresistible.
Then I looked at the resurrection passages again and saw something interesting. In Mark (and Matthew) the young man in the tomb tells the woman that Jesus “has been raised” (16:6). The Greek word here is ēgerthē, a passive and past form of the verb “to rise.” Thus Jesus did not raise himself but actually was raised. So the resurrection becomes an event that happens to Jesus rather than him initiating it. Curious. For if Jesus is God, then surely he could raise himself, right?
It appears that Mark and the early church believed that Jesus was dependent on God and the Holy Spirit to raise him from the dead. In this context, Jesus is no rugged individualist whose final purpose lies in “doing things for himself.” Instead, Jesus lives in total interdependence with the three persons of the Trinity. Without his community, which included the Father and the Spirit, Jesus could not fulfill his mission and would have remained in the tomb. Thus community, dependence, and relationship are essential qualities of the God in whose image and likeness we have been made.
With this image I began to see my friends with disabilities in a whole new way. The Risen Christ became visible no longer only in active and able-bodied people but in all people, even those with the most profound disabilities. Before this I would have looked at my friend Buddy as hopelessly abnormal because of his severe limitations. But in the light of the interdependent Jesus I can now discern in him a mission to call others into relationship, and into real bodily living.
This often occurred to me when I would assist Buddy in getting ready for the day. Even with his very wiry strength, Buddy still requires help in getting up. Without my assistance Buddy could not fully exercise his mission to live in community and transform hearts. Yet without Buddy’s presence, many of my own assumptions about what it means to be human and a Christian – which too often excluded people with intellectual disabilities – would never have been challenged and overturned.
In this dynamic of community, both Buddy and I “have been raised”; neither of us would be complete without the other. Could this be something of what the Trinity is like? If so, perhaps seeing someone like Buddy as made in the image of God might become less an anomaly, and more a basic dimension of Christian faith. This seems the only real and hospitable response to someone with a disability because our God has been hosting since the beginning of time – indeed, it appears to be God’s very identity.
So let us go out not only seeking to “raise” others, but also let ourselves “be raised” by the Other. By doing so may we begin to know who we are as people inherently created for community. And may we recognize ourselves as made in the image of our interdependent and relational God who embodies himself through us, called to be his Body in the world.
Jason Greig wrote this post while he was a Student Associate with Anabaptist Disabilities Network in 2012.