People today wonder about life after death. That’s because we yearn to live. A couple of books on the subject are popular these days: one by a scientist who claims he’s come back from death, the other is an account of a little boy who supposedly died and went to heaven and come back to life.
We wonder too about our universe. Will it go on forever?
A couple of years ago I used to watch Harold Camping on television, who predicted the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011 at 6 PM. He said the world was going to go up in fire, destroying everything except those who read the bible, and he didn’t have much hope for the world or most of the people in it.
A lot of people wondered if his crazy calculation were accurate. They weren’t. The world is still here and most of us are too, but in an era when many have lost confidence in our institutions, including our churches, people listened to him.
Too bad we don’t have more faith in Jesus Christ, who came into our world to teach, heal and offer the promise of eternal life. His death and resurrection answer our questions about death and life beyond this one; he offers hope even for our created world.
“On the third day, he rose from the dead,” we say in our creed. At first, his startled disciples only use short sentences like this to state their experience of Jesus risen from the dead. That’s because his risen presence was unlike anything they had experienced before or could gather from the past. They knew he was real, but his new existence was something they could hardly put into words.
Jesus did not come from the tomb the same as he was before. He was not like Lazarus who came from the tomb and was easily recognized by all as he rejoined his sisters and went back to his own home in Bethany and took up his daily routine. He would die again.
Risen from the dead Jesus did not a return to normal biological life, but entered a new level of being; he experienced an evolutionary change that affected his humanity and also ours too. Death would not affect him. He was changed, yet his love and care for his own in this world remained .
The Resurrection of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, is “an historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it. Perhaps we may draw upon analogical language here, inadequate in many ways, yet still able to open a path towards understanding;…we could regard the Resurrection as something akin to a radical “evolutionary leap,” in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension in human existence.”
Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, is a good source for understanding the mystery of Jesus Risen.
Recent scriptural studies tells us that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were originally meant for particular churches and situations, so when we read them it’s good to keep in mind the world and circumstances behind each one. Each gospel offers its own unique insight into mysteries of Jesus, and to gain its insight we have to resist a tendency to harmonize one gospel with the others.
At the mission on Tuesday evening we read from Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus. Luke centers his account around the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like the other gospels, he begins with the women at the tomb on Easter morning, but the Risen Jesus does not stay at the tomb. The Lord engages the world at large and shares his risen life with his disciples and all creation.
In his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke sees God’s plan of salvation realized in the person and life of Jesus and then extended to all humanity through his church as its spreads from Jerusalem to Rome, then considered the center of the world.
The two disciples on their way to Emmaus help us understand the church’s journey through time, one of the themes of Luke’s gospel. As he did with the two disciples, the Risen Lord walks with his church on its mission through the ages.
Not an easy journey. Like the journey of the two disciples, it’s no triumphant march. Disillusionment, questions and gradual enlightenment are part of their journey. If the Risen Lord was not with them, they would have ended up hopeless. The church would end up hopeless too, if he were not with her.
Like the two disciples we find the Risen Christ slowly in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. Like them, he makes our hearts burn within. He is always with us.
The resurrection narrative from Luke is a good corrective to a triumphalistic view that expects the church to be perfect. It isn’t. It’s also a good corrective to a perfectionistic view of ourselves.
Like the two disciples, we have questions and disappointments, but the Risen Christ walks with us. He engages our questions and helps us understand, slowly. He is present in the breaking of the bread, the Holy Eucharist. We don’t see him; he has vanished from our sight, but he is with us. The Risen Lord guides us to his kingdom.
“He took flesh and now retains his humanity forever, he who has opened up within God a space for humanity, now calls the whole world into this open space in God, so that in the end God may be all in all and the Son may hand over to the Father the whole world that is gathered together in him. (cf. 1 Cor 15,20-28) (Benedict XVI)