4th Sunday of Easter
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes… (Rev. 7:17)
In one of the Church’s favorite Marian prayers, Hail Holy Queen, We pray these words, “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” “Valley of tears” is an apt description of this world both before and after the Resurrection of Christ. Man continues to suffer, whether Christian or not, in this present world, this valley of tears, because this world is not yet transformed by the power of the resurrection, and neither is the human body, and the soul only partially. All that will come later when Christ returns in glory to renew the face of the earth, the face of all creation, including the bodies of the just which will be raised from the earth along with the bodies of the damned. (John) Then the bodies of the just will be glorified and utterly transformed, and, simultaneously, the Lord will transform the rest of material creation, with the exception of the bodies of the damned which will be raised but remain as they were before, subject to suffering, mourning and weeping, subject to the valley of tears, but no longer mortal, since in this one respect they will change, and thus they will never escape the valley of tears.
That is part of the great mystery of man. Man was created for life, not death, and all men will be raised to life in the end, but not all men will be raised to that incorruptible, glorious life that is the fruit of the resurrection. That Life is called eternal because it is truly without beginning or end, for it is truly the Life of God. Eternal Life is, in fact, Divine Life, intrinsically immortal and incorruptible, and it is that Life that raised the body of Christ from the tomb, and it is that same Life that is communicated from the glorious humanity of Christ to those who are baptized into Christ, incorporated into Christ, who are nourished by His glorified Body and Blood, and finally who will be raised from corruption and death to share His Eternal Life.
It is because the Life of the resurrected humanity is God’s own Life that we can truly look forward to an existence that not only never ends – I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish (Jn. 10:28) – but likewise an existence that is free from all suffering and free from all tears, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17) This valley of tears will be no longer. Creation will be what God makes it to be as environment for a humanity that lives no longer simply by a natural form of life, but lives solely by the Divine Life, a fully divinized creature who does no more, suffers more because sin no longer has any place in this new world, sin which no longer has any power, the power of death.
We do not know exactly how the damned will relate to this transformed creation. We know that they will not enjoy its fruit, its freedom from suffering and corruption. Indeed it would seem to make sense that part of their suffering will be their “exile” from this new paradise, that they will know their ultimate loss not from having seen God and lost that vision, but from seeing the glory of God displayed in the new creation from they are forever exiled, alienated, lost. They have lost Paradise forever, and that fact makes them aware of the even greater loss of the joy the blessed now enjoy, the joy of seeing God and living in God, sharing God’s glory only reflected in the new creation as beautiful as it will be.
But there is another aspect to the mystery of man justified and already sharing God’s Life in this world through Baptism. How is it that this Eternal Life that penetrates the souls of those reborn in baptism does not at least free the regenerated soul from suffering and tears by its divine power? This is indeed a great mystery and it begins with Christ himself. Eternal Life not only penetrated His soul, but in truth He is Eternal Life in His Person. Yet he suffered in both body and soul for our salvation. He himself was free from suffering and death, and tears, only when he was raised from the dead. St. Thomas Aquinas says that he was able to suffer and die, since he was subject to neither by sin, because the full consequences of His direct vision of God – which Thomas and most Fathers hold he always possessed on this earth – was miraculously prevented from overflowing into his body and soul, so that he could redeem us by Passion and death.
But that points us to the great mystery of man as a creature made in the image of God, made to possess the vision of God and, by consequence, the gifts of immortality and incorruptibility that follow and flow from that supreme Grace. Man is truly a unique creature composed of body and soul, perfectly united and ordered to each other as a unified being of matter and spirit. The soul cannot be free from suffering so long as the body, with which it is one, is subject to corruption and suffering. And the body cannot be free from corruption and suffering so long as it is in this world, in this valley of tears; that is, so long as it is part of a world subject to corruption and decay and death. At the resurrection it will no longer be part of such a world, for it will glorified along with the world itself by the power of God, by the power of Christ’s resurrection and resurrected body.
This is the great, good news of Easter, of the Resurrection. This is what we look forward to as risen creatures. In the Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, there is a wonderful scene where a character ends a discussion by saying “How good it is to sit in the shade and talk of love.” Ah yes, how true, but how even more wonderful it is to sit in the shade, in this valley of tears, and talk of Life that is Love, the Life of the Resurrection, the Life that makes Love never end, Amen, Alleluia.