At Easter, we celebrate the Resurrection in a particular way, but this celebration is not meant only for that one day in spring when we can eat chocolate again after a forty-day fast. Rather, every Sunday is to be a reminder of our Easter celebration and of the Lord’s Resurrection. Every Sunday, therefore, when we participate in the liturgy, is to be a celebration of our hope in Christ. When we are weighed down by the weariness of the world, we cannot forget the power of the Resurrection, from which we draw nourishment for the week ahead. Celebrating the Resurrection reminds us that we were not made for this world, for this “valley of tears,” but rather for eternal life with God. It is fitting, therefore, to be reminded of the power and glory of the Resurrection.
When Christ died and was buried in the tomb, the disciples were confused and lost. They had hoped that Christ would be their Savior—and then the exact opposite seemed to be true (or so they believed). Thus, the glory of the Lord after his Resurrection was almost beyond them, for in the instances when they encounter the risen Lord, they could not recognize him at first. We shall cite two of them. The first is when Mary Magdalene encounters Christ outside the tomb. After she realizes that the body of Christ is missing from the tomb, she weeps. We read in the Scriptures, “She turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (John 20:14). She sees her Lord, but she could not know his identity because of the bodily barrier: Christ’s Body was now glorified and therefore beyond human comprehension. She thinks he is the gardener and assumes he has taken the body: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15). All Christ has to do is say her name before she recognizes him as the Teacher. It is a similar story with the two men on the road to Emmaus: they did not recognize Christ, who walked with them along the road and taught them many things, until the breaking of the bread (cf. Luke 24:30-32).
Thus, the power of the Christ’s Resurrection is incredible, for his body is now glorified and unrecognizable by his disciples until he reveals himself to them in corporeal ways. St. Thomas Aquinas notes the following reason for the difference of Christ’s resurrected body:
But Christ’s body after the Resurrection was truly made up of elements, and had tangible qualities such as the nature of a human body requires, and therefore it could naturally be handled; and if it had taken nothing beyond the nature of a human body, it would likewise be corruptible. But it had something else which made it incorruptible, and this was not the nature of a heavenly body, as some maintain…it was glory flowing from a beatified soul (ST III Q. 54, art. 2, ad. 2).
Even though Christ’s body had natural physical qualities—he could walk, talk, and eat with the disciples—there was something different about him. Having given glory to his Father through his death on the Cross (cf. John 17:1), Christ was now rewarded with a resurrected body. This glory of Christ’s resurrected body was to be a sign for us of the glorious life to which we are called in the Beatific Vision. It was a sign of hope that our eternal life is different in degree, not in kind, after death. It is for this reason that Christ prayed at the Last Supper, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Thus, our hope in the Resurrection is not a human thing: rather, it is a gift from God that we have hope in the life to come. When Christ died, rose, and ascended into heaven, he promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would be the advocate with the Father, bringing hope for this troubled world:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be with you (John 14:15-17).
Thus, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, which came after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, the apostles had the boldness and ability to preach the resurrection of the dead. In fact, the priests and Sadducees were “annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming Jesus in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). Nevertheless, no matter what was done to prevent the Holy Spirit from speaking through the apostles, thousands upon thousands were baptized in the name of Christ. The important thing to note is that it was not by the apostles’ own power that they preached the Resurrection of Christ. Rather, it was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within them that allowed them to be bold and fearless—it was their hope that Christ truly is the answer to the difficulties of life. It was their hope that this life is not the end, but rather, there is hope in the eternal life to come.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read, “In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (1:11-12). In accordance with God’s plan, our hope is fulfilled in living for the glory of God and for Heaven. We have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). Through the Holy Spirit, we can have the hope of our inheritance of Heaven, which awaits us after death. By living for the glory of God now, in this life, we are working to gain our inheritance of Heaven, in a certain respect. We are now “enlightened,” so that we may know the hope to which Christ calls us, which is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:18; 21).
St. Athanasius speaks about the power of the Resurrection in his short work, On the Incarnation (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011). Writing about the early martyrs for Christ, he explains that they did not fear death, which is atypical of human nature.
For when one sees human beings, who are weak by nature, leaping towards death, neither shrinking from its corruption nor fearing the descent to hell, but with an eager spirit challenging it and not flinching from torture, but rather for the sake of Christ preferring instead of this present life zeal for death…who is so silly or who is so incredulous, or who is so maimed in mind, as to not understand and reason that it is Christ, to whom human beings are bearing witness, who provides and grants the victory over death to each, rendering it fully weakened in each of those having his faith and wearing the sign of the cross? (p. 80).
Athanasius speaks of the zeal these individuals had for death, not merely for the sake of death, but for Christ’s sake. They were unafraid to suffer the pains of death because they knew they would share in eternal life with Christ because of his Resurrection. As Athanasius explains, “When death is played with and despised by those believing in Christ, let no one any longer doubt, nor be unbelieving, that death has been destroyed by Christ and its corruption dissolved and brought to an end” (Ibid). We ought to be inspired by those early martyrs who spurned death so easily, because they knew and understood that death was no longer an enemy. Their belief in Christ was stronger than death, stronger than the most terrifying thing for most human beings.
In our own time, we might be afraid of death. We might wonder why there is so much suffering in the world, and we might fear what is to become of us because of our belief in Christ. Nevertheless, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in his encyclical Spe Salvi, “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present” (1). Hope in the resurrection of the body and our redemption enables us to face our present situation, knowing that we are not living for this world, but for the world to come. Hope is not a thing of this world: it is a supernatural gift that gives us the boldness to proclaim the Resurrection of Christ and even to die for his most worthy Name.