Easter Sunday. Fr Dominic Ryan preaches on the power of the Resurrection.
Today, after all the preparation of Lent, and these intense few days of the Triduum, we arrive, at last, at the celebration of Our Lord’s resurrection, undoubtedly the most important day in the Church’s year and unquestionably the most important event in human history. Now the key image the gospel uses to capture this momentous occurrence is the empty tomb. Essentially it is one of the consequences of the resurrection; if Christ had truly risen, then his body would not have been in the tomb and the tomb would therefore be empty. But the empty tomb alone doesn’t penetrate to the heart of the resurrection, so we have to ask what’s Christ’s resurrection about?
Two things really: Christ’s rising from the dead and Christ’s making eternal life available to us. As to the first let’s be clear what’s at stake. We don’t mean Christ was resuscitated. Resuscitation pertains to living people who are unconscious; dead people can’t be resuscitated. Christ, however, truly and really died on the cross. On the cross Christ’s soul was separated from his body. Christ’s death was a true human death in every sense of the term. Resuscitation was not an option for Christ and therefore it’s not what we mean when we speak about Christ’s resurrection.
Nor, however, do we mean that Christ just came back to life after he had died. Certainly, this did happen to Christ — as it did to Lazarus as well — but, crucially, this wasn’t all that happened to Christ. Because when Christ rose from the dead he rose to eternal life; he would never die again. Lazarus, on the other hand, would have certainly died again. So when we speak of Christ’s resurrection we mean Christ’s body being reunited with his soul in such a way that they would never be separated again. Christ’s resurrection is a rising from the dead of someone who will never die again. It’s about someone who has risen to an entirely new form of life, eternal life. We’re talking here about the overcoming of death entirely.
Of course, what this might mean is difficult for us to grasp. It’s quite natural for us to suppose that life has a beginning and an end. The beginning of life is birth, the end is obviously death, and in between the two we have a set number of years when we just try to do our best. But whilst this is all true, it isn’t the whole story. Fundamentally, human beings are made to share God’s life because we’re made in the image of God. Death only comes into the picture because of Adam’s sin. So when God raised Jesus from the dead, death as a limit on human life was overcome. Christ’s humanity enjoyed a new and glorious existence, perfectly radiating the glory of his divinity. And that’s what God makes available to us, a share of his own life, a share of God’s own glory, which will glorify our newly resurrected bodies at the time of the general resurrection of the dead.
But how does this take place? How does Christ’s resurrection bring this about? Well we can draw an analogy between the effects of Christ’s resurrection and what happens when a stone is dropped into a lake. Just as a stone dropped into a lake causes ripples to radiate across the lake, so also Christ’s resurrection causes divine power to radiate across creation into all times and places. In so doing it brings about two distinct effects in those who encounter it and are properly disposed. First, as efficient cause, so that the bodies and souls of all people are reunited at the general resurrection of the dead. And second, as exemplar cause, so that the bodies and souls of the just share in and are glorified by God’s own glory.
None of this happens by accident. We have to commit ourselves to Christ, remain on the path he sets out for us and, if we stray, be reconciled to Christ once again. Let’s pray today then that we persevere on the path God lays out for us and in the fullness of time come to experience the glory Christ’s resurrection brings about.