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Triumph over Life

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Sunday. Fr Leon Pereira reminds us that the Resurrection is much more than a happy ending.

I once heard a preacher say at a funeral Mass that the person who'd died was like a caterpillar turned into a butterfly, become more beautiful, released from the prison of the body. A consoling idea, but misguided. There is a similar kind of platitude in those cards which proclaim 'Death is nothing really, I've only slipped into the other room'. This intention to console the bereaved is a good one, but you can't genuinely console someone with lies.

Many people can barely tolerate the notion of death, yet it is a mystery that everyone, without exception, must confront. People try to minimise the impact of death, pretend it's not real, pretend it's not as awful as it is. So instead of mourning our dead, we celebrate their lives. Instead of praying for their souls, we talk as though they're already in heaven. We don't leave much space or time for grieving, as though we could never stop if we started. We are like children afraid of the dark, as in an Auden poem:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play?
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

I suspect we do all this because we don't really believe in the Resurrection, and don't understand what it could mean for us. We tag the Resurrection at the end of the Stations of the Cross, almost as if we're afraid people will forget how it all turns out. But the Resurrection is not the last station of the Cross; it is the first station of the Resurrection. It is not a happy ending; it is an eucatastrophic beginning.

If the Resurrection were just a happy ending, it would be no more than a reversal: an undoing of an evil that had occurred. But we can't reverse things. The Resurrection is not simply Christ coming back to life. Resurrection is not resuscitation. Easter Sunday doesn't pretend Good Friday never happened because the Risen Christ still bears the wounds of his crucifixion!

The attempt to minimise death, to pretend it is nothing, also minimises life. It makes everything we are, everything we do, into a joke. But Jesus took both life and death seriously. When Jesus resuscitated his friend Lazarus, he still wept. Though brought back to life, Lazarus would die again. Resuscitation is not Resurrection.

Approaching Lazarus's tomb, Jesus was so distressed, it says in the Greek, that he 'snorted (like a horse!) within himself'. Death is not nothing. Death is not slipping into the next room. Death is awful and it is the end---an end so awful that the Son of God himself pleaded that it would pass him by.

But the Son of God drank that cup and tasted the bitterness of death. If we were only angels trapped in bodies, then death truly would be our liberation. But the only existence we actually know is as bodily beings. And that is why death is so terrible---because it is the end of the only existence we know.

It is because life is so good that death is so terrible. And only by taking death seriously can we take the Resurrection seriously. The Resurrection does not pretend our lives were nothing; it doesn't pretend the body is accidental to who and what we are. The Risen Christ bears his wounds, and they are no longer marks of weakness or pain, but of the glory of God.

The Resurrection is not a turning back of time; it is a stepping out of time. It is the complete triumph over death. But it is also the complete triumph over life.

Because Jesus is risen we do not celebrate his life, but rather that he is our life. We do not pretend we become angels in heaven, but know we will be as Christ is---bodily---in heaven.

Because of the Resurrection we can mourn our dead, and with hope, for God will wipe away every tear. 'For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God'.

Alleluia!

 

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Readings

Acts 10:34,37-43|Colossians 3:1-4|John 20:1-9

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