Monday, April 17, 2017

The bodily resurrection of Jesus


Peace be with you. We have experienced the triumphant return of the word “Alleluia!” In today’s celebration. It’s been missing for the entirety of Lent as a way of preparing us for this celebration. Alleluia is derived from two Hebrew words; “hallel” meaning to praise, and “YaH”, which is the beginning of the name of God in the Old Testament revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. So, we may ask, what makes this day so special that we celebrate using an ancient foreign language? I was taught in seminary that the most solemn celebrations are those in which we are least likely to change. This makes sense when you consider that this celebration marks the central mystery for Christians, the holiest of holy days. Jesus is risen! He is truly risen.

However, recently, I was reading an article on the BBC website that said that a quarter of all British Christians do not believe in the resurrection at all. It went onto to say that almost forty percent of all Christians believe that the resurrection was a purely spiritual reality and didn’t involve his body. Now, I know that this was a survey of the British people, who tend to be less religious than Americans, but I would guess that Americans wouldn’t be entirely different than our British brothers and sisters, especially considering the fact that the account we just heard, both from the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles seems to take great pains in trying to explain why it was a physical, bodily resurrection.

St. Matthew explains this using an internal and an external dynamic. Internally, Mary Magdalen and the other Mary arrive at the tomb at dawn. Suddenly, there is an angel whose appearance causes an earthquake which, as one of my commentaries said, symbolizes that the bodily resurrection has repercussions that shake the very foundation of the world. Still, when the women peer into the tomb, they find it empty, with the only assurance of the resurrection being the word of an angel. Their reaction seems comical and contradictory. St. Matthew says, “…they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed,” How can you be afraid and joyful at the same time? Well, I know I was fearful yet overjoyed on June 22, 2002 as I walked from the rectory to the Cathedral for my ordination. I was fearful because I wondered why the church would choose a sinner like me to be a priest and yet I was overjoyed because God looked at my weakness and still called me. I would imagine brides and grooms know what it’s like to feel fearful and yet overjoyed on their wedding day. And I know that parents feel this when their child takes his first few stumbling steps worrying that he will flat on his face but overjoyed at seeing the development to the next stage of life. For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, an empty tomb and the word of an angel provoked a kind of internal faith that Jesus had been raised. For others, it would have provoked skepticism about someone stealing his body but for these women it was a moment of faith.

Yet, Jesus isn’t satisfied with a purely spiritual, internal experience of faith for his first witnesses. As they are walking along the trail, Jesus appears to them in such a way that they are able to fall down and hold on to his feet. They couldn’t have done that with a ghost or a spirit, let alone with the angel they had just met who, despite being able to scare the heck of out a group of Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb, is purely spiritual in nature and, thus, immaterial. Jesus is physical because he has had a physical, bodily resurrection. This is further corroborated in the first reading during the speech by St. Peter when he identified Jesus as, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Again, ghosts, spirits, and angels don’t need to eat and drink but those of us with a body do. For this reason, Psalm 23 talks about heaven like it is a great banquet with God as a host, the kind of banquet that will put even the best Easter dinner to shame.

Believe it or not, this eucharist is a foreshadowing of that great banquet in heaven and our participation in the paschal mystery, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And, it’s good for us on this Easter Sunday to reflect on its internal and external ramifications for our life. Internally, are we praying daily to get into a relationship with God? At the chrism Mass this past Tuesday, the Archbishop reminded his priests of the importance of praying in front of the blessed sacrament to internalize what we eat and drink at Sunday. Pray to have the faith of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see common bread and wine as the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. Read the readings before Mass to prepare and set aside all that distracts you. Yet, it also should have an outward expression of encountering Jesus. One of the best ways we do that is by coming to Mass weekly and participating with your fellow worshippers in the prayers at mass. Also, if you’re aware of a serious sin, to make use of the sacrament of reconciliation to physically prepare for Mass.

Both our internal and external preparation for Mass should send us out convicted to be Jesus’ witnesses to this world so badly in need of the hope given to us in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Today we proclaim a full-throated “Alleluia” as witnesses internally and externally to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Alleluia! He is risen.