Alleluia. Christos Anesti. Christ is Risen!
The Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very heart of Christianity. As the Gospels and the Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, so too must our lives.
The important news of the Resurrection needs to be affirmed and confirmed. The modern world’s misunderstanding of the meaning of the Passion and the Resurrection is profound. As predicted by St. Paul in 1, Thessalonians 4:13: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.”1 Many around us are “without hope and without God in the world.”(Ep 2,12). The disintegration of the family, abortion, the rise of euthanasia, and an ever increasing desire to satisfy only the flesh are a reflection of the denial of the redemptive power of suffering. In his Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II offers enlightening words in this regard. Human suffering, has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ and at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love which creates good, also drawing it out from evil by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its beginning. The Cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living water.
Despite tremendous advances in health care and comfortable lives, we face something we cannot control: death. The more energy we spend soothing ourselves, the further we move away from an understanding of our true end and a denial of the resurrection.
And yet, the gospels speak:
"It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you. "They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Lk 24,34–43)
Myths, scattered throughout world history, speak of resurrection. In
Egyptian culture, concepts of an afterlife first appear with the sun gods. Later, the myth of Osiris has him brought back to life by Isis and become the judge of the dead. The eastern concept of reincarnation is related to resurrection. In Mesopotamia, we hear the story of Tammuz who was banished to the underworld but revived six months later. Attis was reborn as an evergreen tree, an event celebrated March 25 in the Phoenician civilization. The Greco- Roman world had Adonis. According to Homer when the ancient classical world spoke of bodily resurrection they only did so to deny it. Death could not be undone.3 Writers of the time maintained that the dead were in fact non-existent. Plato proposed a radically different view of resurrection. For Plato, the soul is the true form of the person. The body is temporary while the soul is forever. When a person dies his soul goes to Hades and there, judgment is passed on him.
The Judaic belief regarding life after death fall into three categories:
Initially, there was an absence of hope for life after death. Slowly, the idea that God’s love endures even after death developed, indicating some kind of afterlife. The final version built on this concept by including bodily life after death.4 Despite such beliefs, resurrection makes few appearances in the Old Testament. Into these worldviews Christianity was born. The first Christians insisted that Christ did rise bodily from the dead. This hope was at the center of Christianity. It was, at its core, a resurrection movement and its entire theology rested upon that one event: Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead in a transformed body.5 In the Resurrection of Christ, myth and history meet and reality is transformed.
As noted by by C.S. Lewis:
The heart of Christianity is a myth, which is also a fact. The old myth of the
dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens - at a particular date in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle...this is the marriage of Heaven: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact, claiming not only our love and obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar and the philosopher.
Details may differ and lengths vary, yet all four gospels share the story of a visit to the tomb by Mary Magdalene on the first day of the week. What she found was an empty tomb. Shortly thereafter, Christ begins to make appearances. The Lord appeared first to Mary Magdalene who did not recognize him. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (Jn 20,15). It was not until Jesus spoke her name that she recognized him. On the evening of that first day, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (Jn 20,19–20). In Emmaus he remained unrecognized by the disciples until he broke bread.
The bodily resurrection continues the love shown by God in the Incarnation and affirms the goodness of God’s created realm. It demonstrates the importance of this created realm and more specifically the value of the body. It was upon this value that history was written for the last two millennia. For art history, the body became subject supreme as artist used it to express man’s place in the world and his relationship to God. Christ transformed body is revealed to us through the sacraments. We know from the experiences of the apostles that this revelation is not immediately visual. It takes place in the heart. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” (Lk 24,31).
Modern psychology denies sin and rejects the idea of man’s fallen nature. Science disallows the possibility of resurrection and the comfort of modern life sees little meaning in it. It is true, we do not “believe” in the Resurrection because it is not the result of intellectual inquiry. It is supernatural and a mystery, the place where God and humanity overlap. Rather we come to faith in the Risen One and when we do, we discover who we are and what it means to be human.