Three days later came the Father’s answer to the problem of death. It was equally extravagant. Jesus was not simply brought back to life, like Lazarus. That would have been resuscitation, the mere return to normal, human life, with all its limitations, including death. Lazarus ultimately had to go through it all again—the suffering, the dying, the grieving family, the burial.
Jesus did not “come back.” He passed over, passed through. His resurrection meant that he would no longer be subject to suffering, death, and decay. Death, as St. Paul said, would have no more power over him.You may say that physical death was not the worst consequence of sin, and you’d be right. Separation from God—spiritual death—is indeed much more fearsome. But enough with the talk that physical death is “beautiful” and “natural.” It is not. Our bodies are not motor vehicles driven around by our souls. We do not junk them when they wear out and then buy other ones (by the way, that’s one problem with the idea of reincarnation). No, our bodies are an essential dimension of who we are.
Our bodies and immortal souls are intimately and completely intertwined, which makes us so different from both angels and animals. Therefore, death separates what God has joined. It is, then, entirely natural that we rebel against it and shudder before it. Remember, even the God-Man trembled in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus confronts death head on, for our sake.
The Roman Easter sequence, a traditional poem/song stretching back into the days of the early Church, highlights the drama: “Mors et vita duello, conflixere mirando; dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus” (“Death and life dueled in a marvelous conflict; the Dead Ruler of Life reigns Alive!”).
Recall that Lord of the Rings character Gandalf the Grey, who sacrificed himself to take out the demonic Balrog, returns as Gandalf the White. The devout Catholic writer J.R.R. Tolkien heard the sequence sung for many Easters before he wrote his famous trilogy.
“He descended into hell,” says the Apostles’ Creed, meaning that Jesus endured the wrenching apart of body and soul for our sakes and came out the other side endowed with a new, different, glorified humanity. How does the Bible describe it? Well, Mary Magdalene did not recognize the Risen Christ at first, until he called her by name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him either, even after walking with him for several miles.
But, on the other hand, doubting Thomas shows us that Christ’s wounds were still evident. And though he could pass through locked doors, he proved he was not a ghost by asking for something to eat.
In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul describes Jesus’s risen body as a “spiritual body,” which might sound like an oxymoron. But we have to take off our shoes here and realize we are on holy ground—there are no words adequate to describe the awesome reality of the new humanity he won for us.
Resurrection is not something that Christ intended to keep for himself. All that Jesus has he shares with us: his Father, Mother, Spirit, body, blood, soul, and divinity, and even his risen life.
And we can begin to share in this life now, experiencing its regenerating, transforming power in our souls and even in our bodies. We have access to it in many wonderful ways, but most especially in the Eucharist. For the body of Christ that we receive in the host is his risen, glorified body, given to us so that we too might live forever (see John 6:40–65).Each of us will have to pass through physical death. But we will not do so alone. Jesus will be with us, just as the Father was with him as he made his perilous passage. And while we will experience indescribable joy when our souls “see” him face-to-face, this is not the end of the story. He will return. And when he does, his resurrection will have its final and ultimate impact. Joy will be increased still further when he makes our bodies like his own, in glory. “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen!”
Topics: 40 Days of Lent