Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ultimate Reality

We have just entered the most significant part of the Church year. This past Sunday we renewed the most amazing and powerful proclamation that Christians can make: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!

When we delve into the text of the New Testament we find that the Resurrection is far more than a “faith statement.” It is not merely something cognitive to be endorsed mentally. It is not something only “religious” to be celebrated liturgically. The Apostolic thrust of the Resurrection is something that changes reality, and one’s understanding of reality is the basis on which one lives all of life.

It is right to call this ultimate reality. It is a complete paradigm shift, much like the total revolution in cosmology when understanding shifted from Ptolemy’s earth-centered universe to the sun-centered solar systems of Copernicus. For all practical purposes, the earth had changed for people living in that time. It is no less so for people who believe that the Son of God is risen from the dead.

This was the perspective out of which the New Testament was written. This is the reason a few men who had no earthly power — no esteemed education, no special position or prestige, no great wealth or powerful armies — could turn the Roman Empire upside down. But one thing was clear to those early Christians: the sum total of reality had changed because Jesus had risen from the dead.

Once a person sees the truth of that, he cannot look at this world and day-to-day life the same way. It is like someone who gets news of a terminal illness. Once a person knows the end of life is near, the amount of time remaining is lived with a new perspective. A dying person sees, hears and values in a new way.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ offers the ultimate reality that this world — this life we now have — is not all there is. The death of Jesus Christ is actually a judgment on life lived as though this world is all there is.

This is why Jesus says such up-side-down things in the Beatitudes such as Blessed are those who mourn and Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake...

This is why timid Peter becomes the bold Apostle on the day of Pentecost, charging his hearers with the death of Jesus and later telling those who crucified Jesus, We have to obey God rather than men.

This is why St Paul tells the Corinthians thing like this in his first letter: For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and then later, let those... who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it, for the form of this world is passing away.

Paul gives the other side of the coin to the Colossians: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. This is why he goes on to exhort them to put earthly passions to death, not to get angry nor speak with foul language and not to lie, but rather to forgive others and to embrace things like kindness and even lowliness.

This is why John wrote what he did in the Apocalypse. While he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos he was writing and warning of even worse things to come to God’s people, and yet with those serious words there is a tone of victory and an encouragement for Christians to remain faithful. How can this be? How can we dare to live in contrast to the world’s greatest values? It is because Jesus has died for our sins and is risen from the dead — and in God’s time He is going to return, bodily and visibly, and make everything new.

You see, when we know that Jesus Christ has died for judgment on sin and has risen to open a whole new level of existence, it affects the way we live in this world. This is the teaching of the New Testament and the Church.

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