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It's Only Natural

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Sunday. Fr Richard Conrad explains why our lives are like upside-down icebergs.

The Gospels are reticent about the Resurrection. Having described Our Lord's Passion in relentless detail, they do not describe the Resurrection at all. They simply explain how Jesus's disciples found out about it. The tomb was empty; the stone had been moved -- after Jesus had gone -- to show that Jesus had gone.

Some apocryphal gospels do attempt to describe the Resurrection. Their accounts fall flat. Many artists in the West have tried to paint the Resurrection. Their images do not do justice to the event. Some show the stone moved to let Jesus out. Some show him climbing out of the tomb still looking half-dead.

Clearly, Our Lord's Resurrection is harder to depict than his Passion. That's not because it is more unfathomable. It is not surprising that a martyr should be rewar¬ded by resurrection -- well before Jesus's birth, the Jews had come to realise that fact about God's justice. If we recall who this martyr is, the Resurrection is not surprising at all. It is not surprising that God should live. It is surprising that God should die.

Mark's Gospel reaches its climax when Jesus dies, and a human being can at last proclaim Jesus as the Son of God. John spells it out: when Jesus accomplishes his Father's work, he is revealed as the Son -- indeed as YHWH. 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM HE.' By dying, Jesus reveals the Father: once he has embarked on his Passion, Jesus can say of the Father, 'From now on you know him and have seen him.' When he bowed his head in death, Jesus 'handed over the Spirit' and from his midst flowed rivers of living water. At his death Jesus could claim: 'It is accomplished.'

At Easter we celebrate the greatest event of all time: God's death on the Cross. The Prefaces for Easter say it is especially right to eulogise God 'at this season when Christ our Pasch is sacrificed.' We celebrate Jesus's death -- as victory -- at Easter.

Of course we also celebrate Jesus's Resurrection in this season, and journey toward Pentecost -- the completion of the paschal mystery, the public coming of the Spirit, all of whose comings throughout history were won by Jesus's sacrifice.

That sacrifice is the most momentous of events. But it is the Resurrection that we cannot properly depict. For Jesus did not come back to life. Lazarus came back, and was let out of his tomb. Jesus went ahead into a new and higher life -- better, he established the new and higher life we call Heaven.

Wiser artists in the West did not show Jesus climbing out of the tomb. They showed the tomb still sealed -- or the women looking into the empty tomb -- and Jesus above, in the mandorla of light that symbolises eternal life. He does not belong to this world any more. He is the First-Fruits of a new world.

Until we catch up with Jesus, we must be like the Beloved Disciple who saw the cloths, saw and believed. His faith leapt up from the springboard of evidence, to grasp what we cannot yet look on.

Of course, Jesus did reveal himself to his disciples after his Resurrection -- but always veiling his glory, and accommodating himself to our pilgrim state, as he still does in his Sacraments.

We cannot yet bear to look on Jesus's risen glory. Nor can we bear to look on the full splendour of our lives, conformed as they have been to Jesus. He has died; we have entered into his sacrifice through Baptism, Confirmation, and perhaps Marriage or Ordination; we keep entering into it through Penance and the Holy Eucharist. 'You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.'

Our lives are like an upside-down iceberg. Most is invisibly immersed in the ocean of Heaven. Only the tip hangs down into this world, showing its true grandeur when we imitate Jesus's self-giving love. The glistening oil that anoints the sick is a pledge of future visible conformity to Christ Risen. Then we will bear to look on him.

We cannot depict what we shall be like when we 'appear with him in glory'. But the really unfathomable change has already been wrought in us. God died; after that it was only natural that he should rise. If we have died with him in Baptism, and if we keep on dying with him by celebrating the Eucharist and living the love it shows us, then it is only natural that we should rise with him.



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


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