And indeed (sorry NT Wright) it’s not with ambiguity. As the Gospel lectionary for the Sunday after Easter Sunday makes clear, Jesus’ disciples doubted his resurrection even as they worshipped him. Thomas insisted even for more proof.
The late Dominican philosopher, Herbert McCabe reads the Easter stories as they are, straight up, in the Gospels- not as full-throated victory shouts but as qualified, murky signs of something more to come.
“The cross does not show us some temporary weakness of God that is cancelled out by the resurrection.
It says something permanent about God:
not that God eternally suffers but that the eternal power of God is love; and this as expressed in history must be suffering.
The cross, then, is an ambiguous symbol of weakness and triumph and it is just as important to see the ambiguity in the resurrection.
If the cross is not straightforward failure, neither is the resurrection straightforward triumph.
The victory of the resurrection is not unambiguous; this is brought out clearly in the stories of the appearances of the risen Christ.
The pure triumph of the resurrection belongs to the Last Day, when we shall all share in Christ’s resurrection. That will not, in any sense, be an event in history but rather the end of history. It could no more be an event enclosed by history than the creation could be an event enclosed by time.
Perhaps we could think of Christ’s resurrection and ours as the resurrection, the victory of love over death, seen either in history (that is Christ’s resurrection) or beyond history (that is the general resurrection).
‘Your brother’ said Jesus to Martha ‘will rise again. Martha said ‘I know he will rise again on the last day.’ Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection…’
Christ’s resurrection from the tomb then would be just what the resurrection of humanity, the final consummation of human history, looks like when projected within history itself, just as the cross is what God’s creative love looks like when projected within history itself.
Christ’s resurrection is the sacrament of the last times.
Just as with the change in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the resurrection can have a date within history without being an event enclosed by history, without being a part of the flow of change that constitutes our time.
The resurrection from the tomb then is ambiguous in that it is both a presence and an absence of Christ. The resurrection surely does not mean Jesus walked out of the tomb as though nothing had happened.
On the contrary, he is more present, more bodily present, than that; but he is, nevertheless, locally or physically absent in a way that he was not before.
It is important in the Thomas story that Thomas does not in fact touch Jesus but reaches into his bodily presence by faith.
It is important in the Mary Magdalene story that Mary does not at first recognize Jesus.
Here is a resurrected, bodily presence not too tenuous but too intense to be accommodated within our common experience.
So then Christ’s resurrected presence to us through the sacraments still remains a kind of absence: ‘…we proclaim his death until he comes again.’