By Fr. Andrew Heaslip
In this Clip I would like to continue our consideration of the paschal mystery. Last time, we in particular focused on the passion and death of Jesus. And so here we need to look at the completion of the paschal mystery, that is, the resurrection and glorification.
The Apostles’ Creed says, “On the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
Let’s begin, then, by exploring these articles of the creed, starting with what it means that Jesus rose again from the dead. This expression means, first, that Jesus’ resurrection is a real and historically verified event.
The first sign that this event really occurred and was a bodily resurrection was Jesus’ empty tomb. On Sunday morning when the women came to the place where Jesus was buried, St. Luke recounts that, “they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body” (Lk 42:2-3).
Nevertheless, an empty tomb can be explained in many ways, so the greatest sign that bears witness to the resurrection are the many encounters that Jesus had with his disciples after he had risen. Indeed, the first witnesses to this were the women who encountered Jesus near the tomb. Yet, we also hear from St. Paul that the Lord “appeared to Cephas [or Peter] and then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time” (1 Cor 15:5-6). Now, the apostles could not have invented the resurrection, because at first they didn’t even believe it. Indeed, after he had risen, Jesus rebuked them for their hardness of heart (cf. Mk 16:14).
In these many encounters and testimonies, then, we can see that Jesus’ resurrection is an historical fact, but we also learn from them that the resurrection is something unlike any other event in history, for it was totally penetrated by the heavenly and divine, and so is also a mystery of faith.
For example, we hear in the Gospels that Jesus has a glorified body, a body which has entered into the Glory of God and is no longer limited by the categories of space and time. Therefore, the risen Christ could appear how and where he wished and could manifest himself to his eyewitnesses, the disciples, and not the world.
And yet, while Jesus’ resurrection is not simply a return to ordinary earthly life, it is, nevertheless, truly a bodily resurrection. For example, Jesus still bears the marks of his passion, which the apostle Thomas was able to touch. He also took food with his disciples, showing that he was not merely a ghost. Thus, Jesus’ risen body is both a real and a glorified body.
But now let’s consider how the resurrection occurred, and that is through the work of the Blessed Trinity. Thus, each person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brings about the resurrection. The Father’s power “raised up” (Acts 2:32) Christ’s humanity, while the Son who laid down his life “takes it up again” (Jn 10:17) by reuniting his soul and body, which the Holy Spirit brings to life and glorifies.
Now, God preformed this work of the Resurrection as a culmination of his saving plan—it fulfills not only the promises of the Old Testament but also the Incarnation of God’s Son. The resurrection, moreover, confirms the truth of Christ’s divinity and everything he did and taught.
Further, Christ risen from the dead is the wellspring of humanity’s salvation, that is, his risen life brings about our justification, wins for us, even now, the grace to be children of God, and is the source of our own future resurrection.
Next, let’s consider what happened at Jesus’ ascension into heaven which occurred 40 days after his resurrection. In this event Jesus appeared to the apostles with his ordinary human features for the last time.
After he tells them to await the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, St. Mark says that he “was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (16:19). This expression first means that Jesus’ humanity entered fully and irrevocably into the glory of God, where he now continually intercedes for us.
Moreover, sitting at God’s right hand means that, even in the Son’s human nature, he reigns as Lord of the cosmos, of history, and of his Church. In this way, then, Jesus remains mysteriously present on earth where his kingdom, though not yet fully realized, already has its beginning in the Church. Nevertheless, we also await and long for Christ’s final return when as the Nicene Creed says, “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
Because we do not know the time of Christ’s return, Christians wait in watchful anticipation praying, “come Lord Jesus,” as we hear in the book of Revelation (22:20). This final time of Christ’s coming will mark the end or upheaval of our passing world, and the complete triumph of God’s kingdom where God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
Moreover, when Christ our savior returns in glory, he will bring about the Last Judgment, when the secrets of all human hearts will be revealed and the conduct of every person toward God and neighbor will be made known. And thus, everyone from then on will experience either the fullness of eternal life or the pain of eternal loss, according to how one lived and whether he or she refused or accepted God’s saving love.
In summary then, after Jesus’ passion and death, he rose from the dead. His resurrection is both an historical event attested to by eyewitness and a mystery of faith filled with divine glory. After his resurrection Jesus ascended bodily into heaven where he now reigns as Lord. From there he will return in glory to bring about the Last Judgment as well as the complete fulfillment of God’s eternal kingdom.
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