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Easter Vigil, Year C

The Easter Vigil 

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...A second thing that’s really crucial to highlight about the Resurrection is the element where the text says, “They went in and did not find the body.” I cannot stress this enough, when we talk about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have to make absolutely sure that we know what we’re speaking about. There’s lots of confusion about what we mean by the Resurrection of Jesus. And all of that can be cleared up if we focused on that word, right there: they did not find “the body”. The Greek word there is soma. And when it’s talking about a dead body it means “a corpse”. So, when we talk about the Resurrection of Jesus, the discovery of the empty tomb, the fact that there’s no corpse in the tomb is a crucial element for understanding what the first Christians would have meant by Resurrection. There are a few false ideas of Resurrection out there that we need to make sure we aren’t thinking about when we proclaim this truth. So for example, number 1, in 1st Century Judaism, Resurrection did not mean a simple return to ordinary life. It’s not just a “resuscitation” (even a miraculous resuscitation). We see examples of that elsewhere in the Bible: Jesus brings Jairus’ daughter back to life; Jesus brings Lazarus back to life. We even see people raised from the dead in the Old Testament, like when the man touches the bones of Eli’sha. But in every one of those cases, although the language of “being raised up” could be used to describe it, there is a fundamental difference between what happened to Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus and what happens to Jesus. Because with Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus, they’ve returned to ordinary earthly life, and eventually they’re going to die again. You can actually see this with Jairus’ daughter. Jesus brings her…she “wakes up” so-to-speak. And even Lazarus, Lazarus comes out of the tomb in his body, but eventually they even try to kill him – he’s going to die again. But with Jesus, something fundamentally different has taken place here. It’s not just the reunion of his soul and his body. He’s not returning to ordinary life, he’s entering into a new mode of existence in which he will never die again. It’s not just the immortality of his soul, it’s the everlasting life of his risen and glorified body. You can’t see that as clearly in Luke’s gospel here, but if you look at Matthew’s account it’s a little clearer. Because in the gospel of Matthew, when they get to the tomb, the stone is still there; and it says that the angel rolls away the tomb for the women. They couldn’t have rolled it away for themselves. It would have been very, very heavy. And so when they go into the tomb, there’s no corpse there. Now this is fundamentally different than Lazarus because it means that Jesus’ new resurrected body passed through the stone. He passed through the tomb. They didn’t have to roll the stone away for Jesus to come out. He’s in a new mode of existence, just like he will pass through the walls on later occasions when they’re in the upper room. So number 1: Resurrection is not just a return to ordinary earthly life.

Number 2: Resurrection is not just the immortality of Jesus’ soul. Please, please, please make this clear. There are lots of people out there who think, or even who even claim, that when Christians say that Jesus was raised from the dead, what we mean is that “his spirit lives on”. “His soul went on to be with God”, “He’s immortal” or “he lives in the hearts of men” or something like that. No, no. The Greeks have a word for that. It’s Athanasia – immortality. And to be sure, Jesus’ soul is going to live forever, but that’s not what the early Christians were proclaiming when they talked about the Resurrection. When they talked about the Resurrection they were proclaiming that something had happened to his soma, something happened to his body, something happened to his corpse. The foundational truth of Christianity involves a corpse being transfigured and resurrected, entering into a new state in which that body would never die again. So it isn’t just the immortality of Jesus’ soul. And again, what’s the clue to this? It’s the empty tomb. It’s a fundamental sign that shows us that the truth of the Resurrection isn’t about “Jesus’ spirit appearing to someone in a dream after he’s died and consoling them”. It’s about something happening to his body. He is now alive again in his body...

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