Today Jesus Christ is glorified by His Church as we proclaim our faith that He is truly risen from the grave, the conqueror of death, and the source of an unending life to all who believe in Him. We passed with Jesus through the veil of tears on Good Friday and with the Apostles through the awful silence and anticipation of Holy Saturday. Even though our faith already knows the outcome, nonetheless we can understand the deep confusion and fear of the Apostles as they awaited whatever was to come next, whatever God had in mind for the future now that Jesus’ body was lying in the grave.
The world at large is still wondering if anything really happens after death, including the death of Jesus. But we know, because the great news, that Jesus is risen, like the news of his birth, was conveyed to us by angelic creatures, the messengers of God. No less a messenger will do, for this is truly the singularly greatest news for mankind, that sin has been atoned, that death no longer can dominate the human race, that the victory of life over death has been assured in the Resurrection of the Lord. Our faith today professes to a still unbelieving world that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross has redeemed us all from our sins, and that His resurrection makes possible a whole new life for us already in this world, and perfectly in the world yet to come.
Yet, what a mystery it seem to us is the fact that mankind is still so resistant to this supremely good news! However, we should not be totally surprised that so many people today still resist believing in this good news, when we read how resistant to the truth the Apostles themselves were when the woman who was first addressed by the angels brought the good news to them. Fallen mankind is so dominated by death, that it becomes second nature to believe in death more than life, to become convinced that death is inevitably stronger than life, that is, that death actually has the final victory. And this is precisely what most men in our day, lacking faith, learn from their reading of human history, the ultimate victory of death which claims all in the end, even the greatest of our race. O, there are signs of something else in nature, like the rebirth of life each spring, but still all individual things eventually die, and, at least for man, we know no one in our direct experience who has risen anew from death.
Likewise, the non-Christian religions then and now, even if they believe in some sort of survival, end up with a doctrine far from Christian belief. Oriental pagan religion tends to see this survival after death as a purely spiritual, non-bodily form of continued existence, and end up seeing the human person as simply being absorbed into something infinite with no personal dimension of being.
Islam and Mormonism see the resurrected body in very natural terms, as simply a continuation of life as it now, but with no more suffering or death. None of this is even close to the truth we profess as Christians as our Easter Faith. The resurrected life is not purely spiritual just as the risen Lord’s life was truly bodily. But the life of the risen body is not merely a natural continuation of our present life without the problems of suffering and death. The glorified body is profoundly transfigured by God’s glory and shares in the ecstatic beatitude of the soul, most intimately united to God.
Nonetheless, the apostles were not yet aware of their true destiny and so were also resistant to this good news – in spite of Jesus telling them ahead of time that he would rise. They obviously did not understand this, and they were obviously so overcome by their Master’s death, that they were not ready to accept this tremendous truth in their weak faith. Only when they personally directly encountered the Risen Lord, did they put their faith in the full truth of His resurrection and the possibility it held out for them and for the world. This Easter faith changed their lives so radically that they became new men, born again in a true sense, men no longer dominated by the fear of death, men on fire with very same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and gave them new life in Him.
Faith in the resurrection of Jesus and all its implications for man truly gives the believer a new vision and new life in this world. It transforms human life from being under the domination of death, to a new life which overcomes death. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus goes beyond a simple belief in immortality, that is, in the continuation of our present existence in some vague and perhaps purely spiritual fashion, as in eastern paganism. The resurrection means that man’s destiny is to live forever as a true man, not as some disembodied spirit, but as flesh and blood, but marvelously transformed as in Christ, a bodily creature raised to a new life in God.
Thus, faith in the resurrection also helps us to understand the ultimate truth of the body, that the body is meant to be a holy temple of the Lord, a temple in which God will personally dwell forever. We can never despise the body if we truly believe in the resurrection; nor will we ever choose to defile the body or disparage the body in any way, if we truly believe in the Resurrection. That is what St. Paul is suggesting when he says that “the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Our body is Christ’s and His risen body is ours, and we live this mystery most fully in this world in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
On the other hand, those who do not believe in the resurrection will never understand the Christian’s deep respect for the sacredness of the body. Thus, there can be no real appreciation of the deep truth of human dignity without faith in the resurrection. It is not just one truth among others concerning man. It is the truth that enlightens all others and thereby fills our hearts with joy. It is the anthropological and theological truth that enables us to live in this world without being its slave; the truth that enables us to love this world without mistaking it for our final home. It is the truth that enables us to see beyond, to see the possibility of victory over every form of sin, slavery and death, the real possibility of leading a truly new life already in this world.
And if the truth of the resurrection enables us to see this possibility of a new life, it is the power of Christ’s resurrection that actually enables us to realize that possibility. Christ is risen from the dead, and now that same victory can be ours, if only we have faith, and turn to Him for the power to live the new life, a life of freedom from sin he made possible for us by His death and a life of true goodness in God, made possible by his resurrection,
Today, then, we and believing Christians everywhere celebrate our victory over sin and death in Christ. May we also experience the power of His victory in our own lives today and always, and may we come to know its full victory one day in the resurrection of the just. May God bless us all today, and may this be a truly joyous Easter because we believe the message of holy angels and the teaching of those chosen companions who encountered the Lord in His risen body.