April 22, 2011

It’s the Resurrection, not the Resuscitation

By John F. Fink

We call it the Resurrection, not the Resuscitation.

What happened on Easter was far more than just the resuscitation of a dead corpse. It wasn’t like what happens when a doctor brings a clinically dead person back to life.

It wasn’t even like what happened when Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17) or the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22-24, 35-43) or Lazarus

(Jn 11:1-44). Or, for that matter, when Peter restored Tabitha to life (Acts 9:36-43) and Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12).

All these people returned to their previous lives, but all of them died again at some point. That wasn’t true of Jesus. The scriptural accounts of the Resurrection make it clear that Jesus had entered a new form of life.

He appeared to Mary Magdalene and the Apostles in his spiritual body. He’s the same person, yet he’s also different. And it’s true that the evangelists had some difficulty telling us exactly what that body was like.

First of all, these people, some of whom lived with him for the past three years, didn’t recognize him at first.

The disciples with whom he walked on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him until the breaking of the bread, but neither did Mary Magdalene, who thought at first that he was a gardener.

Even the Apostles who encountered him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee didn’t initially recognize him. After Jesus invited them to eat the fish that he was cooking, “None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they realized it was the Lord” (Jn 21:12).

Then there is the fact that Jesus was no longer bound by the laws of physics. He appeared in the room with the Apostles even though the doors were closed and locked. He appeared suddenly on the road to Emmaus then disappeared again, and he apparently appeared to those disciples at about the same time that he appeared to Peter.

At other times, though, to show that he wasn’t a ghost, he proved his physical existence by eating. St. Luke’s Gospel, in particular, tells us that, after Jesus suddenly appeared, the Apostles “were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Lk 24:37-39).

He then asked for something to eat. They gave him a piece of baked fish, and he ate it in front of them. He had also sat at table with the disciples going to Emmaus and presumably ate on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Acts implies that he ate with the Apostles during his appearances to them during the 40 days before his Ascension to heaven.

Jesus obviously didn’t continuously live among the Apostles during those 40 days, but appeared to them from time to time. Acts says, “He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

And St. John’s Gospel says, after Jesus’ appearance on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, “This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead” (Jn 21:14).

So why should we consider what Jesus’ resurrected body was like? Because some day we, too, will have a spiritual body. We, too, will be raised from the dead.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul linked our resurrection to that of Jesus. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised,” he wrote (1 Cor 15:13). But Christ has been raised, he said. “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (1 Cor 15:21-22).

In that letter, Paul also tells us what our resurrected body will be like. Comparing our body to a seed, he said, “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one” (1 Cor 15:42-44).

Pope Benedict XVI put it this way in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week—From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,“Essential is the fact that Jesus’ Resurrection was not just about some deceased individual coming back to life at a certain point, but that an ontological leap occurred, one that touches being as such, opening up a dimension that affects us all, creating for all of us a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God” (p. 274).

(John F. Fink is the editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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