Sunday, April 17, 2022

"I Know That My Redeemer Lives"

On this day we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is the greatest miracle and the principal testimony to the truth of our Lord's teaching, for, as St. Paul says, "if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). This is a potent reminded that it is not merely the crucifixion of Christ that saves us; our salvation is incomplete without His resurrection to glory. Jesus was "put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). His rising also serves as a pledge that we, too, shall be raised to life again, adoring God forever in our glorified flesh. Christ is "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor. 15:20-24).

"The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it" (Mark 9:31-32). Christ spoke plainly of the Resurrection to His disciples ahead of time, but the meaning of His words was veiled from them. The reason for this is uncertain; perhaps God deliberately obscured this truth from their minds, or perhaps they misunderstood through a defect in their own natural faculties. Whatever its cause, the Resurrection remained indiscernible to them before the fact. Thus, the death of Christ shattered their imaginings; the finality of the crucifixion must have made their squabbles about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven seem childish and na├»ve. We can imagine what disappointment they must have had. A hint of this disillusionment can be heard in the voice of the nameless disciples Christ encountered on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection: telling Him about the events surrounding the Crucifixion, they say, "we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21) the pluperfect "had hoped" signifying that they had once hoped, but now hoped no longer.

The Resurrection, then, was not a foregone conclusion to the disciples. We may presume the Blessed Virgin Mary to have nurtured this hope in her Immaculate Heart, but for the rest of His followers, we can assume they were as dejected as those Christ met on the Emmaus road. The Gospel of John tells us that after the Crucifixion, Peter and the other disciples returned to Galilee and went back to their lives as fishermen (John 21:1-3); this is not the sort of behavior we'd expect from men who were anticipating an imminent Resurrection of their Lord.

How glorious and life-changing, then, must have been the realization that the Lord had risen indeed! How excited Peter must have been when, hearing Christ's voice from the shore, he leaped from his boat into the sea to swim to His Master. How stupefied the disciples must have been as they sat around the fire on the beach in stunned silence watching the Resurrected Messiah munching on roasted fish. But if these moments were astonishing, it was only the apparent finality of His death that rendered them so. For had He not truly died, His sudden reappearance would not have been as stupendous. Suppose Christ had not died, but merely been wounded and escaped; His reappearance would have been welcome, to be sure, but not astounding and certainly not life-altering.

The Lord's ultimate demonstration of His power did not prevent suffering; it came rather after the evil had been done. This is the locus of the Resurrection for us as well. There is no rising to life if there first be no death. For every Christian, this entails a "dying to sin" so we can rise to "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). This is the spiritual Resurrection that every Christian undergoes. But all of us work through many smaller "resurrections" throughout our lives. I am speaking of the "death" we all undergo whenever we suffer in any sense. The sufferings we undergo are manifold: abuse by others, destructive behavior from ourselves, or agonies of nature. God's power to "deliver us from evil" does not often free us from the experience these things; it turns them to good. The only way out is through; this is the lesson of the Resurrection. In a sense, every little victory of grace is a resurrection: when I finally divest myself the burden of resentment towards someone who has wronged me, that is a resurrection. When I overcome a bad habit, that is a resurrection. When I speak a word of comfort to a wounded spirit, or deny myself some pleasure for the good of my soul, or find God in the deepest midst of my suffering and ignorance, these are little resurrections. But, like the Resurrection of Christ, we find they do not come save in the aftermath of some chaos, some evil, some catastrophe. 

Whether we like it or not, we are all handed burdens in this life, and the challenge of our existence is to rise above them, that in doing so we may know ourselves better and conform ever more closely to the image of God. Nature establishes the parameters of our existence, but we are to transcend what nature has given us. This is the function of grace—to elevate our nature, ennoble us, transfigure us into something greater than we could have ever become on our own. This is the hope of the Resurrection, both the "little" resurrections of daily life, and the grand Resurrection, when we shall see God. But it is a "hope against hope" (Rom. 4:18), born from death, like a seed falling to the earth sprouts into new life. And when that fresh life blossoms into glory, we shall see, on that day when all that is hidden shall be manifest (cf. Matt. 10:26, Luke 8:17), how every tear and heartache and loss was but another stone into the spiritual temple we are all called to become (1 Pet. 2:5); scars gilt in gold, trials become gems, wounds turned to radiant light.  

Thus, with Job, I say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job 19:25-27).

"Restore our fortunes O' Lord, 
like the watercourse in the Negev
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy
carrying their sheaves" (Psalm 126:4-6).

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