As a Christian, “He is Risen!” is one of my favorite phrases taken from scripture. In some of my darkest times, it has helped me to not only remember who Christ is (and all the power that entails within and without my situation), but also who I am IN Christ.
In Matthew 28:6, Matthew recounts the angel who caused an earthquake and who rolled away the stone to the entrance to the tomb, and who gently stated these words to comfort the women there to anoint Jesus’s body with spices, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (KJV).
This same angel then tells the women, “And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.”
What a great comfort for Christians from those three little words…He Is Risen!
But, as an English teacher, they have grammatically baffled me. Let me break down why….
“Is” is the present tense of the “be” verb when conjugated. It means “a present state of being”–which is the present tense or happening currently. “Risen” is the past participle of rise.
What does past participle mean in the English language? The past participle is the form a verb takes when combined with the auxiliary (or helping) verb “have” to form the perfect tense. When combined this way, the auxiliary verb helps determine the present, past, or future perfect tense of the verb.
In other words, to say Jesus “has risen” means an action that began in the past and is happening concurrently with another past action (present perfect), ie Jesus has risen from the grave and Christians have based their joy on that occurrence! Or, stating Jesus “had risen” from the grave means an action was completed when another past action began (past perfect), ie Jesus had risen when Mary approached the tomb. Or finally, stating Jesus “will have risen” means a future action or condition that will have ended before another begins (future perfect), ie Jesus will have risen when future Christians profess their faith in him.
Got all that?
So in actuality, stating the words “He is risen” is conceivably not only physically and spiritually an impossibility, but also a grammatical impossibility as well.
…yet, the angel says, “He is risen.”
He IS risen.
As stated, “is” means a present, right now, state of being, and risen is an irregular participle needing a helping verb to define its grammatical state–to determine what form of “perfect” it is.
Therein lies the paradox.
But, that’s also so God. He will never allow himself to truly be defined by any human constraints. The resurrection happened, but Jesus is.
Jesus IS risen because his body wasn’t the only part of the equation. Jesus’s resurrection was the absolute act of love whereby an infinite spirit became contained in a finite vessel for 33 years in order to not only know about, but to know intimately the experiences of his creation in order to defeat the ultimate obstacle of our faith–death–by dying on a cross. Jesus’s body WAS raised, but his spirit IS, his omnipotence IS, his omnipresence IS.
Jesus IS risen because he right now, today, is above all of our greatest fears, above all of our deepest needs, above all of our greatest enemies, and while being above all else is simultaneously WITHIN us to be, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 46, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (KJV).
He is what we need, when we need, at the time of our need, while we need.
The writer of Hebrews says it best in verse 8, “Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (KJV).
So rejoice! Rejoice, I say…rejoice!
It isn’t a typo, a grammatical error, or a spiritual implausibility. He…Is…Risen is a truth upon which you can have hope and the assurance of your faith.
Christ is paradoxically perfect. Trust him.
Happy Good Friday! 🙂