Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 10, 2006
Christ's death gave us eternity
Christ's empty tomb is the source of our hope. It is a sign that our resurrection is not mere immortality of the soul, but eternal life for the whole person.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate at Easter is not an isolated spectacle. It is, as St. Paul wrote, "the first fruits of the harvest of the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:20). The body that is ours today is the seed that will flower in eternal life. Christ "will transfigure the body belonging to our humble state and give it a form like that of his own resplendent body" (Philippians 3:21).
St. Augustine noted, "On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body." There is a common tendency to opt for a weaker belief - it is the soul that survives death and is thus liberated from the lowly flesh.
The attractiveness of this belief comes from the legitimate tendency to see the things of this world as dross compared with the things of the spirit. As well, some Christian philosophy has been influenced by Platonism with its contention that the soul will be better able to know and to love once freed from the body.
This understanding of the human person is quite at odds with Christianity. In the Christian understanding, the human person is not a combination of body and soul, but one unified being. The healing stories of Jesus in the Gospels anticipate the resurrection of the body. Even though Jesus' raisings of Jairus' daughter and the widow's son are resuscitations and not resurrections, they point to the resurrection of the body. Our physical sufferings matter to Jesus; he calls us not to the enlightenment of nirvana but to wholeness.
The Church gives the raising of Lazarus such a prominent position in the Lenten liturgy because it is symbolic of the final resurrection. St. Paul places such importance on this teaching that he says, "If there be no resurrection (of the body) then Christ was not raised; and if Christ was not raised then our Gospel is null and void, and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
Our inclination is to ask what the resurrection of the body will be like, but Paul dismisses this as a foolish question. He says the mortal body is like a seed for the eternal, imperishable body. There is identity between the two, but the risen body is transformed. We cannot grasp what the flowering of the seed will be like, only that it will be something much greater and unimaginable.
"This 'how' (of the resurrection) exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1000). "Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies."
The Council of Trent went as far as one dares in describing our resurrected bodies. It said they are immune from pain and death; they are free from restraint by matter; they obey the spirit with regard to movement and space; and the beauty of the soul is manifested in the body.
Joseph Ratzinger in a 1968 book (Introduction to Christianity) says immortality is the result of being drawn into dialogue with God. "Man can no longer totally perish because he is known and loved by God. All love wants eternity and God's love not only wants it but effects it and is it."
The empty tomb. The appearances of the risen Lord were simple, paradoxical and yet awesome. Although the resurrected Jesus was often not recognized at first, his was the same body that was crucified on Calvary.
This great event of the resurrection is our hope. The whole person will one day stand with God, burnished and transformed, yet still identical with the man or woman who today walks the earth.
- Glen Argan
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