Preached April 21, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Peter and John come to the empty tomb – the tomb is empty; death is empty; death has been defeated. Inside the empty tomb they find the empty burial cloths that appear as a sort of symbolic exclamation point.
If someone had come and just stolen the body, the tomb would have been empty, but they would hardly have taken the care to remove the burial cloths, much less carefully fold the napkin covering the head and set it to one side.
Perhaps the burial cloths and the napkin covering the head exist to this day. The Shroud of Turin is well known; the Veil of Manopello is not so well known. Together the two make a rather startling point, like the burial cloths in the empty tomb.
The Shroud of Turin reveals the brutal violence of the scourging, crowning with thorns, and crucifixion. The Veil of Manopello, which shows just the face, a face that seems to match the face on the Shroud, comes after the Shroud, but shows the face of a living, breathing man with his eyes open. The Veil seems to show the face of Jesus risen from the dead.
When the Romans crucified a man their intent was to utterly destroy that person by destroying his body.
When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the Body of Jesus in the tomb it seemed that the Romans had done their job all too well. They had done their job well, but there was a certain boldness involved when Joseph asked Pilate for permission to bury the Body of Jesus. He was taking a risk by letting himself be associated with a man that had been condemned to death as a rebel against the power of Rome. The Romans had done their job well, but not so well that they succeeded in completely destroying the love and affection of Jesus’ followers.
So, let us imagine for a moment what might have happened if the tomb had been the last word.
Jesus’ disciples might have recovered, after a fashion. They knew of the martyrs during the time of the Maccabees almost two hundred years earlier. They might have believed that while Jesus had been unjustly condemned, that now he was in some way living with God. They could have believed that God would raise him up with everyone else on the Last Day. His memory would have continued among them. They might have sought to put his teachings into practice, especially as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. The might have developed into an obscure Jewish sect, known for their non-violent way of life and special care for the poor.
That is what today some people seem to think that Christianity is all about. Except this does not at all explain the historical reality of Christianity.
You see if the stone over the tomb had been the last word that would have been it: at most an obscure Jewish sect. Apart from the memory of his example and his teaching Jesus would no longer have been a living and active presence in the world.
The stone over the tomb, however, did not have the last word. Jesus had the last word. Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Only by means of his bodily resurrection could he really overcome the defeat of the crucifixion. Only a bodily resurrection can overcome all the sorrow and injustice of this world; only a bodily resurrection to an immortal and incorruptible life, free from the reign of death. Unlike Lazarus, Jesus Christ rose from the dead never to die again. His resurrection is the promise of our resurrection.
The body is an essential part of who we are as human beings. The vision of God might be enough for our soul, but as human beings we will be incomplete until our bodies also are raised up to the life of glory. Because of that incompleteness, St. Thomas Aquinas, who had the most elevated view sufficiency of the vision of God for the happiness of the soul, does not hesitate to say, “separation from the body is said to hold the soul back from tending with all its might to the vision of the Divine Essence.” (ST IaIIae Q4a5 ad 4) The resurrection of the body is the true promised land.
For us, the resurrection of the body must wait until the Last Day, but for Jesus the resurrection took place already on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection is the promise and guarantee of our resurrection.
Jesus rose bodily from the dead and through his resurrection has become a living, active, powerful presence in the lives of his disciples, in the world, and in the whole of human history.
Jesus rose bodily from the dead and he continues that bodily presence in a hidden way through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and in that sacrament he touches us in a bodily fashion, he touches us bodily so as to give us life spiritually. The power of his presence continues in the Holy Eucharist. In the Holy Eucharist he continues to eat and drink with his disciples; now he does not share with us in ordinary meals, but rather gives himself to us as our supernatural food, the bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation.
Jesus rose bodily from the dead and now reigns as King as the right hand of the Father. Jesus rose bodily from the dead and has been established, in his Body, as the judge of the living and the dead.
Now our salvation turns entirely on our response to Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Our way to God must go by way of the Body of Christ. Without belief in his bodily resurrection there is no forgiveness of sins.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!