Bringing the Resurrection Home
The Resurrection is the heart of our Christian faith. St. Paul taught us that "if Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:17). Why did Paul write those strong words? It seems he was scolding the Corinthians for their lack of faith in the Resurrection. He tells them that if Christ had not been raised from the dead, then his preaching and their faith are not only useless but indeed a harmful delusion: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all." (1 Cor. 15:19)
What, then, does it mean to believe in the Resurrection? Faith in the Resurrection is the unshakeable belief that Christ died on the Cross and rose from the dead in His human body. Transformed by the glory of God, He emerged from the tomb and was seen by the Apostles. Indeed, the Risen Christ did not discard the body which was crucified. The Scriptures tell us that His risen body was marked with the wounds in His hands, His feet, and His side. At the same time, Jesus' risen body was more than a resuscitated corpse. The same body which was crucified now was also glorified; it brimmed with God's imperishable life and love.
This was more than a demonstration of God's power. In passing from death on the Cross to the new life of the Resurrection, Jesus won for us the definitive victory over sin and death. After all, death epitomized our sinful state of alienation from God, from others, even from ourselves. In rising from the dead, Jesus broke the grip of evil over us and ensured that, in spite of our ongoing sinfulness, sin and death would not ultimately prevail, that the forces of evil would not have the last word in human history or in our individual and collective lives.
It is significant that this victory was won by means of our human nature. The third century Christian writer, Tertullian, put it this way: "The flesh is the hinge of our salvation," (De Resurrectione Carnis, 8, 9). Christ truly assumed our humanity, including a human body, so that He could be seen, heard, and touched, and so that He could die and rise for our salvation. Our "en-fleshed" humanity was the means by which Jesus prevailed over the powers of darkness. In winning this victory by means of our humanity, he also restored our humanity by freeing us from sin and opening the path to intimacy with God and with others in the communion of the Church. Thus we profess every Sunday that "we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins" and that "we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." (The Nicene Creed)
Jesus' resurrection matters to us. It is the impetus for a whole new life – not just a new way of thinking and acting, but a new way of being in relationship to God and to others. How can this be? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that what we profess in faith, the sacraments of the Church communicate to us (CCC, no. 1691). Through the sacraments we share in what Jesus has done for us. This gives us a new principle of life: "I no longer live," St. Paul said, "but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Because the Risen Christ dwells in us through faith, we can live the law of love in the spirit of the Beatitudes and continually grow in intimacy with the Trinity. We can live as faithful, loving, active members of the Church, the Body of Christ. In heaven, all this will blossom into the face-to-face vision of God, in company with all the saints and angels. This is the happiness we seek, the destiny for which we long.
"Well and good," you might want to say to me about now, "but all this sounds very abstract." You might be asking, "How can a mysterious event which happened some 2,000 years ago affect my life now? Can the Resurrection really touch my daily existence? Who will bring it home for me?" Perhaps that's as good of a job description for a priest as one could hope for. The priest is the one who brings the Resurrection home for us, both as individuals and indeed as a community of faith. When the priest proclaims the Word of God and celebrates the Eucharist, he makes present for us the Paschal Mystery, the death and Resurrection of Christ. The Risen Lord is no longer an abstraction but is really present in our midst and especially in the Eucharistic species, the bread and wine transformed into Christ's Body and Blood. Thus, Pope John Paul II wrote that, "…with the Eucharist, we digest, as it were, the 'secret' of the Resurrection." (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 18)
But that is not all. In the Sacrament of Penance, the priest applies the power of the Resurrection to our specific sins and then lifts us up from the death of sin. In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the priest unites us in our suffering to the death and Resurrection of Christ, thus giving redemptive value to our suffering. In preparing us for death, the priest enables us to embrace our calling to share God's life forever. In guiding us as teachers and pastors, priests help us embrace this newness of life in our daily joys, sorrows, and challenges. Acting in the very person of Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, the priest makes the Resurrection sacramentally real for us. He mediates our encounter with the Risen the Lord so that we can indeed embrace the new life which He won for us.
As we enter into Holy Week and celebrate the joy of Easter in this Year for Priests, let us thank God for the gift of the priesthood and for our priests who bring home for us the Resurrection. May the Risen Lord give to me and to my brother priests an ever deeper awareness of the depth and beauty of the mysteries we celebrate for those we serve, and indeed, for our own salvation. Together with my brother priests, I wish each of you a very happy Easter!