Accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection
Sunday, April 04, 2010
By Allen Vigneron
Rejoice! Christ has risen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Rejoice and be glad, for the Lord Jesus is truly risen!” I take these words from one of the Church’s venerable Easter hymns to offer to you my prayerful best wishes that all of you will be filled with great joy and peace in your celebration of Christ’s passage through death to the triumph of His Resurrection.
In my column this week I would like to confirm your Easter joy and deepen your Easter peace by offering some brief remarks on the meaning of God the Father’s raising of his Son Jesus Christ from the dead. I’d like us to consider together how the Lord’s Resurrection is linked to the creation of the world.
Before I spell out how creation and resurrection go together, as an aside I want to acknowledge that I am indebted to Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, for giving me the window or “lens” through which I came to a new insight into this truth about creation and resurrection. (In fact, this “aside” is not “beside” the point, since it will help explain my point.) Not long after my return to Detroit, the rabbi gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, a copy of “Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary” – a book that Conservative rabbis and many of their congregants use as they make their way through the Pentateuch in their Lectionary, Sabbath by Sabbath.
In my meditation on the readings from the Book of Exodus, which are part of the “Office of Readings” in the Breviary for Lent, I consulted this commentary. It points out that “the initial Hebrew letter of the verse that begins (The Book of) Exodus (vau, usually translated “and”) is a link to (The Book of) Genesis, because the letter suggests continuity with what precedes it” (page 317). And more pointedly, in commenting on the verse, “But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific” (Exodus 1:7), the authors observe that “this description of the Israelites’ extraordinary fertility (is) in language that is also used in the creation narrative of Genesis 1:20, 28” (page 318). The conclusion: God is signaling to us that His actions in the exodus are a continuation of His acts of creation.
Now, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the new exodus, for which the exodus of Israel out of Egypt was a type or foreshadowing. So, in a pre-eminent way, the Lord’s Resurrection is a continuation and a fulfillment of the work of creation.
The preaching of the great fathers and doctors of the Church is richly abundant in confirming this essential link between the creation and the Resurrection. Let me mention three ways they do this.
First, the Lord’s Resurrection occurs, as the Church fathers say, “on the eighth day,” the next day to come after the seventh, the original Sabbath Day on which God rested from the work of creating. By raising his Son on Sunday, God has begun again the work of giving life to the world. The “intermission,” so to speak, is over. Now God has given a new and more abundant life, a life that is deathless, immortal life, risen life.
Second, they point out that the Resurrection of Christ follows the same pattern as that sketched in the account of God creating Adam in the second chapter of Genesis: In forming man out of the clay of the ground at the first Creation, the Lord God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). In the second creation that is the Resurrection, from mid-day on Good Friday until before dawn on the morning of the first day of the week, the body of the new Adam, Jesus, was just clay, dust; but then the Lord God his Father, breathed back into Him the spirit, the breath, of life – the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of life” – and Christ became the first born from the death, the first of the renewed human race (cf. Romans 5:12-19; Colossians 1:15). [emphasis mine]
Third, the sacrament of baptism, by which we become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection, makes us a new creation; as St. Paul himself affirms, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). [emphasis mine] Just as in the first creation, the Spirit hovered over the waters to bring the world out of chaos at God’s word (cf. Genesis 1:2), so we are recreated in the waters of baptism as God pours out on us the same Holy Spirit that brought Jesus back from the dead. [cool!]
The explanation for the essential link between God’s work of creation and His work of Resurrection is His very nature. He is “the God not of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). Death was never a part of His plan for creation. Death came into the world through the original and originating sin of our first parents. Within the first hours after their fall, the Book of Genesis tells us, God promised that He would remedy what they caused; this is the “Proto-evangelium,” the first Good News (Genesis 3:15). And note, God did not solve this tragedy by turning away from those to whom He had given life. He did not, as it were, “press the delete button” on Adam and Eve to take their being away from them in order to start over.
Such a new start would have been out of keeping with His nature; it would have meant He would have had to remove existence from those to whom He had given it. This would have been to break faith with the covenant implicit in his very act of creating. But no, He is the God of the living, His power to give life is so great that He has used the very worst imaginable instance of death, the murder of God incarnate, as the means to destroy death and carry His creation into an even more vibrant and vital state – in the risen, living, Spirit-filled, flesh of Messiah Jesus. He has transformed the fruit of Adam’s sin into the medicine for this fatal sickness. The death-causing poison of sin lies in its rejecting the love of God; the transformation comes by the new Adam bearing His death with unconditional love.
All of these truths about the Resurrection of Christ and its relation to creation, while of cosmic significance, are not mere speculation. These truths are about us, about our daily lives, our day-to-day existence. Every day we see some part of our lives, our personal worlds, come to ruin through sin. No part of our earthly life is, of itself, safe from the blight of death. However, Christ is risen! God has kept His promise, and kept it in a way far beyond what we could ever imagine by our own lights. The lost opportunity, the lost happiness, the lost friend, the lost child or parent or spouse, the lost life – all of these will be restored to us in Christ, because in Christ the Father has given us life. And this life is beyond the power of death, not because it has escaped from death, but because it has conquered death. The rising of Christ has been the death of death.
That is, indeed, Good News. I could give you none better. I pray that you will accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection as the Father’s best possible gift to you, his sons and daughter. Above all, accept it, take it to yourself, in your Easter Communion; with full hearts and minds eat the risen flesh of Jesus and drink his living blood from the chalice of salvation. Participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass with these dispositions cannot fail to confirm your Easter joy and deepen your Easter peace.
As a post-script here, let me ask you, please to pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, so that I will have many worthy co-workers to spread this Good News about Jesus and to share His living and life-giving Body and Blood with those who believe in Him. And pray, too, for an increase in vocations to the consecrated life, so that there will be more women and men to witness to the Risen Christ before the world.
A happy and blessed Easter feast to you and those you love.
Archbishop Allen Vigneron leads the Archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan.