The hardships of this life, within the timeline of the Resurrection

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5th Sunday of Easter, Year C: April 28, 2013
Acts 14:21-27; Ps 145; Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35

Four weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. For, after his passion and crucifixion and death and burial, on the third day he was raised from the dead, gloriously alive, his body transformed. That was the beginning: for our Lord Jesus was the firstfruits of the Resurrection.

And today, on the 5th Sunday of Easter, we catch a glimpse of the fulfillment of the Resurrection. For our Lord Jesus will come again, and he will raise every human being from the dead, and he will judge every person and give eternal rewards and punishments. And he will transform the entire universe, so that every person and all creation come to share in his Resurrection. And then, as we heard in the second reading: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

This, then, is the beginning of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, and its fulfillment on the Last Day. But just as we can identify the beginning and fulfillment in absolute terms, so we can also locate each of our stories within this timeline.

For each of us, our entry into the storyline of the Resurrection—or rather its entry into our story—came at our baptism. For at that moment we were united to Christ in his death and resurrection, and the power of his resurrection was applied to our souls: transforming them, wiping away all original sin and any personal sins, and giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. That was amazing—something not available to any human person before our Lord Jesus died and was raised! And if that was the beginning of the resurrection for each of us, then we too look toward the Last Day, when our bodies also will be transformed by the Resurrection to become like our Lord’s risen body.

But if that’s our destination; if that’s our fulfillment; then why this earthly life? Why not just jump straight to the good part? Why this vale of tears?

We hear the answer in the Catechism (1263-64):

By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God… Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence…

You know, just minor things! Why were these left? Were they just overlooked? Why weren’t suffering, illness, death, and the inclination to sin also mopped up in baptism? The Catechism says that this was no accident when it observes:

…concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, [and] cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed (quoting St. Paul) “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

And there we get a hint of why. Any good parent will not do everything for their children, but will intentionally leave certain steps, certain tasks, for the child to complete on their own. How else will the child learn and grow, in both skills and character? And it seems to be something similar with the Lord. While he certainly could have swooped in and snatched us away from everything, as a Deus ex machina, he instead had a different plan. For the sake of our dignity, he wanted us to have a share in our own liberation. He wanted us to have a share in overcoming the ancient foes of Satan and sin and death, to which our first parents had capitulated. And so, having transformed us and equipped us in baptism, and giving us the regular nourishment of the Eucharist and regular cleansing of confession, and promising never to leave us or forsake us, he leaves us a share in his battle so that we may truly share in his victory.

Thus St. Paul said in the first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” No kidding! But it’s worth it. As St. Paul also wrote to the Romans: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Does he know what he is talking about? Sure he does! Remember that he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:24-27):

Five times… I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.

What was that again?

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation… that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rom 8:18-19, 21)

So what is this earthly life for, in the timeline of the Resurrection? It is when we cooperate with our Lord Jesus to overcome the residue of sin in our lives: the actions, the omissions, the habits, the attitudes, the fear, the weakness in the face of temptation. It is when we grow to fulfill his new commandment to love one another as he has loved us. It is when we become thoroughly faithful, peaceful, patient, generous, and kind; when we overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21); such that nothing can push us, or pull us, from the path of true, strong love of God and of one another. It is when we become what he made us in baptism; it is when we become saints.

The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Indeed he does! Let us follow closely our risen Lord, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2). In the timeline of the Resurrection, it is worth it!

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