We’re concluding our parish mission in Shelter Island, NY, today with some reflections on the Resurrection of Jesus.
People today wonder about life after death. That’s because we want to live. We wonder about ourselves, first of all. Do we live after we die? 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. Both are best sellers.
Our questions about life beyond this one also surface in popular culture; the media is big into life in space and dark alien forces that invade our ordinary world. Must be life out there, but it looks scary, according to the media.
As Catholics we believe this world is connected to a world beyond. We believe in “the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Big beliefs. We believe there are tangible signs of our connection with this world, for example, apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes and Fatima.
Besides wondering about ourselves, we wonder too about our universe. Will it go on forever?
A couple of years ago I followed Harold Camping on television, who predicted the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011 at 6 PM. The world was going to explode in fire, he said, destroying everything and everyone except those who read the bible; he didn’t have much hope for the world or most of the people in it.
A lot of people wondered if his crazy calculations were accurate. They weren’t. The world is still here and most of us are too, but at a time when many have lost confidence in our institutions, including our churches, people listened to him.
We believe 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 also offers hope for our created world.
“On the third day, he rose from the dead,” we say in our creed. At first, his startled disciples spoke of their experience of Jesus risen from the dead in short statements like that, because his risen presence was unlike anything they had experienced before or knew from the past. They knew he was real, but his new existence was something they could hardly put into words. Their initial confusion is evident in the New Testament.
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. Lazarus would die again.
Risen from the dead Jesus would not die again. He did not a return to the normal biological life he had before, but entered a new level of being; he experienced an evolutionary change that not only enhanced his humanity but 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 the Risen Jesus.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are later statements about the resurrection of Jesus meant for particular churches and situations, so we should read them with their world in mind. Each gospel offers its own unique insight into mysteries of Jesus.
At our mission today we read from Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus, which centers on the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like the other gospels, Luke begins with the women at the tomb on Easter morning, but they don’t find Jesus at the tomb. The Lord enters the world at large to share 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 Jesus who brings God’s salvation to all humanity through his church as it goes out from Jerusalem to Rome, then considered the center of the world.
The two disciples on their way to Emmaus represent the church on it’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 were not with them, they would continue in hopelessness. The church ends up hopeless too, if Jesus 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 triumphalist view that sees the church as perfect. It isn’t. It’s also a good corrective to a perfectionistic view of ourselves. We aren’t.
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; the Risen Lord has vanished from our sight, but he’s with us, guiding us to his kingdom.
Jesus also brings all creation into the mystery of the resurrection. “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)
Harold Camping didn’t understand this.