Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Going Beyond Life
The relationship between Jesus' death and resurrection
makes it possible to have a true understanding of the Paschal
mystery. We will begin to look at this relationship in the symbols
in which Jesus expressed the meaning of his death at the Last
In the symbolic breaking and sharing of the bread
and wine Jesus represents what he was doing in life and was about
to do in death. What is it that enables Jesus to make the symbol
a reality by his actual death the following day? The answer, perhaps,
lies in the words that appear with minor variations in all the
Synoptic accounts: "I tell you I shall not drink again of the
fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you
in my Father's kingdom."
For Jesus this is his last supper, his farewell
supper with his friends and disciples, and yet it is somehow not
the end. It is the last time that he shall drink of the fruit
of the vine, but only "until" he drinks it with them in his Father's
kingdom. These symbols, then, are not only symbols of the self-giving
of Jesus, but also symbols of his loving faith and hope in his
Father and his kingdom. It is this loving faith and hope that
enable Jesus to give all in order to find all: "For whoever would
save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my
sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mk 8:35), says Jesus as he
invites his disciples to take up their cross and follow him, or
in John's version: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who
hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (12:25).
Life Conquers Death
The bread and wine express Jesus' believing and
hoping and loving "unto the end." Jesus dies not for the sake
of death, but for the sake of life: "Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains
alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24). The death
of Jesus in loving faith and hope is an affirmation of Life Itself/God
that could only be made in loving faith and hope. Jesus' loving
faith and hope was grounded on his conviction that Life Itself/God
was invincible and unquenchable, that it would conquer death.
To believe in the God of Jesus is to believe that we can give
ourselves totally to Life Itself, even unto the end, and it will
not fail us.
The resurrection experience of the early disciples
of Jesus, then, refers to their coming to that loving faith and
hope in the Father that Jesus himself had not only preached, but
also lived. Their loving faith and hope were born in their experience
of the crucified and risen Jesus and the gift of his Spirit.
Seeing the crucified and risen Jesus, first of all,
was not a "seeing" in the sense in which they had seen Jesus before
his death and resurrection. The resurrection narratives do not
portray the risen Jesus as "there" for everyone to see. He was
seen only by those to whom he appeared, and in the narratives
that we have, this group includes only believers. When Paul lists
the appearances of Jesus to Cephas, to the Twelve, to the 500
brethren, to James, to all the apostles, he places his own experience
on the road to Damascus at the end of the list (1 Cor 15:5-8).
Paul's experience is described in Acts as a light from heaven
that flashed around him, and as a voice speaking to him (9:3-4).
The fact that Paul lists this appearance with the others and uses
the same word would seem to indicate that he was speaking of the
same kind of experience in all of the appearances.
It is true that in some of the narratives the appearances
are described in very physical terms, as though it were a "seeing"
in the usual sense of the word. But underneath the literary embellishments
and the details that accrued in the telling of the story, there
is very likely the kind of experience that Paul himself had. When,
therefore, Jesus says to Thomas: "Have you believed because you
have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"
(Jn 20:29), we cannot take this to mean a physical seeing that
precluded or excluded faith, but must take it as an experience
of the risen Jesus that included faith.
How much do we know and how much can we know about
the nature of the resurrection, or about what the risen Jesus
who appeared to them was like? We can look to Paul's attempt to
answer such questions in writing to the Corinthians: "But someone
will ask: 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do
they come?' You foolish man," Paul replies (1 Cor 15:35-36), but
he does not stop there. He tries to contrast the risen body with
the earthly body: "What is sown is perishable, what is raised
is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical
body, it is raised a spiritual body" (15:42-44). Then he tells
them a "mystery": "We shall all be changed...for this perishable
nature must put on the imperishable, and this moral nature must
put on immortality" (15:51-53).
Taking Paul's contrast as a norm and as a guide,
we can say that there is both continuity and discontinuity between
the old and the new. It was the same Jesus of Nazareth who was
raised from the dead, but he has been changed and transformed.
Paul says that the earthly body was physical, and the new body
is not physical, but spiritual.
The same is true, of course, of the resurrection
as an event. What was experienced in the resurrection was the
already risen Jesus. No one in the New Testament claims to have
seen or witnessed the actual resurrection, or even to know what
a resurrection is. They know of the resurrection by way of an
inference from their experience of the risen Jesus. This is not
to question whether it actually happened; rather, it is to say
only that there was no one who had a direct experience of it and
could have described it literally. .
Going Beyond Life
There is a danger in speaking of the resurrection
to imagine it as a process of revivification or resuscitation.
Then resurrection would mean a "coming back to life," as in the
story of Lazarus coming back to life in John's Gospel. This, according
to Paul, is exactly what resurrection is not. Resurrection is
not a "coming back" to life, but a "going beyond" to a totally
new and different kind of life. Paul stresses the change and the
transformation, the newness of the risen body.
We cannot speak of the resurrection as an "historical"
event in the same sense in which the crucifixion was an historical
event, that resurrection was a reincorporation back into the processes
of history, a coming back into life and into history. Resurrection
is in some sense a continuation of the life that existed in history,
and this is the point of the continuity between the old and the
new. But it is not an historical continuation of this life, for
eternity. Risen life is a new kind of life and a new kind of existence
involving a total change and transformation of the old, and this
is the equally important point of discontinuity that Paul stresses.
The resurrection is an eschatological event rather
than a historical event. Eschatological existence is not simply
a continuation of history, it is not history extended and continued
indefinitely. It is rather the culmination of history, the passage
of the historical into a new and final mode of existence. The
resurrection of Jesus, then, does not stand to our present as
a past, historical event, nor as a future event. Eschatological
existence does not stand within the "befores" and "afters" of
historical and temporal existence. We cannot describe eschatological
existence any more than we can describe the body of the risen
Lord, and for the same reasons. In resurrection language we are
dealing with the expressions/symbols of Christian faith and hope
and love; we must, therefore, use the language of analogy and
metaphor to express the meaning of the resurrection as a passage
into a new life, a life which we can know only in loving faith
and hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Belief in the resurrection is not the same as believing
in the immortality of the soul. There was nothing automatic about
the resurrection; that is, it was not the automatic survival of
the spiritual part of a man or of the soul. God raised Jesus from
the dead, not his soul, but the whole Jesus in his total existence.
It was the whole Jesus of Nazareth who was changed and transformed
into new life and existence. The whole Jesus had to die and be
raised from the dead, transformed into what Paul calls "spiritual"
Love Leads to Life
Christianfaith is not belief in the immortality
of the soul, or a general belief in an afterlife. In seeing the
death of Jesus as the giving of his life for others, Christian
faith is not the belief that after death comes life, or that death
leads to life. It is the belief that Love is life and leads to
It was not the physical death of Jesus, but his
death as the expression of his free and loving self-giving that
constitutes its religious and theological significance in the
New Testament. To die for others is not just to die, but is the
most free and personal act of life and of the affirmation of life
in loving faith and hope, and the Christian believes that this
life, the life of Jesus of Nazareth, constitutes true life, a
life that is stronger than death and survives death. The Christian
believes that the life and death of the risen Christ reveals and
communicates the invincible and eternal life and love of the Triune
In John's theological reflection (1 Jn 4:7-9) we
are told that love leads to life because such a life is sharing
in the life of God who is Love Itself, and to share his life is
to have been touched by the Eternal in time. "This is eternal
life," says the Gospel of John, "to know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (17:3). To know (in the biblical
sense) Jesus of Nazareth in the Paschal mystery, in his dying
as a loving self-giving in faith and hope, is to know something
of God's life, eternal life. To share in such a life is to share
in a life that is eternal, an eternity known in loving faith and
hope. In the farewell discourse in John, Jesus of Nazareth could
say: "I am the way and the truth and the life" (14:6), that is,
the life he lives and offers to others is the true way that is
life and leads to life. He could also say to Martha, who knew
that her brother would rise on the last day, that he was the resurrection
and the life (11:25), that his life and death revealed the meaning
of life and resurrection.
Death and Resurrection Are One
Our loving Christian faith and hope is not believing
in the resurrection as an isolated, past event, but a believing
in Jesus of Nazareth, in his whole life as the way and the truth
and the life. This faith believes that the life of Jesus, including
his death, is the way to true life, to eternal life, to life with
God, and it is this aspect of our loving Christian faith and hope
that comes to expression in the resurrection. The crucifixion
of Jesus was the ultimate test of the invincible love that suffering,
evil and death could not overcome. The invincible love of the
crucified and risen Christ both reveals and communicates the fullness
of Eternal Life, assuring us that the Life who is Love cannot
be extinguished, and that the power of the Love prevails over
Christian revelation was lived by Jesus of Nazareth
in his concrete history. Before the ultimate mystery of good and
evil and of life and death, Jesus lived with the loving trust
and conviction that his gracious and merciful Father would have
the last word. The Father affirms his life and mission from the
start when, at the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descends upon
him: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased"
(Mk 1:9-11; Mt 3:13-17; Lk 3:21-22). That marvelous reality of
the Father's love is the key to our grasping the story of our
crucified and risen Lord as Good News for all humankind. Born
again with and in our crucified and risen Lord, we recognize the
same voice of his loving Father affirming the meaning and value
of our lives as participants in the life and mission of the Beloved
Son and his Spirit. The gift of the Father's love in his Son and
Spirit empowers us to take up our cross and follow Jesus as participants
within the Paschal mystery.
The Paschal mystery of the life and death of Jesus
is the mystery of living and dying with the Son in the Spirit
of the Father's love. It is, ultimately, the mystery of all human
living and dying within the ultimate context of humankind: the
mystery of God as Eternal Love and Eternal Life. Christian faith
and hope and love express our graced and welcoming response to
the Mystery that is Love and Life Itself, enabling us to believe
and to hope that all things human can be redeemed, that all human
flesh can be glorified, that the human is of eternal value.
Next: Antioch (by Elizabeth McNamer)