The great unexpected overlap of the Resurrection

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Easter Sunday: April 8, 2012
Acts 10:34, 37-43; Ps 118; Col 3:1-4; John 20:1-9

They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Standing right there in the empty tomb, where just hours earlier the most extraordinary event had happened—Jesus Christ had risen from the dead—they did not understand.

And for good reason. First, they were traumatized. Not 72 hours before, they had seen this great teacher and healer, who they had followed for years, captured and dragged away to be falsely accused and condemned to a horrible death by the authorities. They were scarred, and afraid for their own lives. How could they understand?

Second, they knew, like we do, that dead people don’t just get up and walk around again. And some of them had seen with their own eyes the terrible scourging that Christ had suffered; the crowning with thorns; the beating; the times he fell while carrying his cross; the crucifixion; the death. They knew what his dead body looked like when it was placed into this tomb—this tomb from which it was now gone. If a dead body is missing, doesn’t that mean that someone has moved it—whether friend or foe?

But there is also a third reason—and for that we need to step back a bit to consider their situation, there in the Holy Land of the first century. Over the previous several centuries, there had been considerable ferment in the ideas of the people about what would happen after death—in interaction with the Scriptures, as well as with the ideas of influential Greek philosophical culture. Was death the end? Was the soul immortal, continuing to exist without the body? Or would there be a resurrection: a rising again of the dead to bodily life? If there was, would it be just the good people, or everyone? And, if so, what would the world of the resurrection be like?

There were lots of ideas, and lots of arguing. We see in the Gospels how Jesus answered the Sadducees, who believed that there was no resurrection. And we see in the Book of Acts how St. Paul was able to escape a sticky situation by starting a fight between the Pharisees and the Sadducees about just this question.

But about one thing, I think they agreed: that if the resurrection of the dead ever did happen, it would be the end of the world as we know it. For what was it that Ben Franklin said? “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The resurrection of the dead would mean that everything had changed. No more taxes; no more work; no more commuting; no more errands, or cooking or cleaning; no more deadlines, or danger, or stress. The resurrection would mean the end of the world as we know it.

And the disciples who went to the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday morning knew that it was still the regular world. They still had to brush their teeth and sweep the floor. They were still afraid of the Roman soldiers.

But what they came to discover, once the women saw the angels, and once a number of them met the risen Christ himself over the next 50 days, was that something had occurred that no one expected. No one. And it is this: that the age of the original Creation, created good by God and then terribly wounded and darkened by sin—would overlap with the age of the New Creation, transformed and redeemed in Christ.

For Christ, the firstfruits of the Resurrection, was walking the earth again: not just having gotten back up to live the same earthly life he had lived before; but transformed, as if he now belonged to what we might call a new “dimension,” the dimension of the Resurrection; able to operate within this world with such power that locks and walls and distances and appearances all melted away before him. Christ, the first of the Resurrection, the first of the New Creation, walked within this world and had begun to transform it from within. It was an overlap that no one expected.

And then he brought on a second unexpected overlap: which is that you could transformed and brought into the Resurrection, partially now, and fully on the last day. Partially now, how? Through baptism. Through being immersed in his death, in the blood and water that poured forth from his side on the cross, you also could rise to newness of life in him: your soul transformed, washed clean from sin, filled with the Holy Spirit, adopted as a son or daughter of God the Father himself. Your soul transformed now; and then on the last day you would be raised, with your body transformed as well, into a glorified body like his.

So the Resurrection age overlapped this age and operated within it; and we could be transformed by the Resurrection now, partially, and fully later. No wonder they did not yet understand! But they came to. And they were changed. St. Peter, who during Christ’s passion denied that he even knew him, would proclaim before those same authorities, “”We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 5:29-30) And St. Paul on his missionary journeys did not walk into a new town and say, “I’d like to tell you about a dead man who I found really inspiring.” No, he proclaimed: “Resurrection! Resurrection!” (observation borrowed from Fr. Robert Barron)

So how about you? Would you like to be transformed by Christ? Would you like to be baptized—as five were right here at the Easter Vigil last night? (If you would, talk to me afterwards about RCIA preparation.)

But so many of you would say: I’m already baptized. I was baptized many years ago. Oh! So you also are living the same transformed life as the apostles, with the power of Christ’s resurrection shining through your life! Or are you? Maybe St. Paul would say that, though you have come to know God and be known by him, you have returned to being enslaved by the weak “elemental powers” of the world? (cf. Gal. 4:3-9) Living the same daily grind as everyone around you? The resurrection being something you hear about once a year, but don’t live everyday?

It is entirely possible to receive the tremendous grace given in baptism and leave it unused—like a gift left sitting never unwrapped, never opened, on a shelf in the closet of your soul—never tapped into. It is also possible that, through sin, you have killed that life that was given to you, and that it is sitting there dead within you.

Would you like to tap into that resurrection life? I have two suggestions for you.

First, go to confession. Confession is the sacrament in which the life first given to you in baptism is restored. If you have any mortal sin that you have not brought to confession—or, I would even say, if you haven’t gone in the last month—go! It may be that that life is dead within you right now; and that life will be restored in confession. Go there, and receive back the life that you may have lost a long time ago. All it takes is repentance in the merciful hands of Christ.

Second: we notice that the Gospel reading began, “On the first day of the week.” In the account of Genesis chapter 1, the work of creation lasted seven days. So then, on the eighth day, for early Christians, came the New Creation—which defined their lives, and so their day of worship shifted from the 7th day to the 1st or 8th, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Day of the Lord.

In order to really live out the power of Christ’s resurrection on Easter, celebrate those days. Celebrate, first, this whole season. The Easter season lasts 50 days—longer than the 40 days of Lent. And we also celebrate Easter, in a different sense, every single week on Sunday. So, why not look at the intersection of those two: there are a total of eight Sundays in the Easter season—today and the next seven through Pentecost on May 20. Especially if you gave up something for Lent, consider taking on something for this season. Consider making these eight Sundays special: living the resurrection life; pushing out of those days the world as we know it; leaving aside normal activities like work, money, shopping; blocking those out for just one day each week, for these eight Sundays. Make these Sundays a chance to take in the life of the resurrection now.

We heard St. Paul say to us in the first reading:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, not what is on earth; seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, you too will appear with him in glory.

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