The Resurrection and Fear

Douglas P. McManaman
Third Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2018
Reproduced with Permission

Immediately after his greeting, Jesus asks the disciples "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" Those two questions say a great deal, because fear and doubt are two words that characterize very well the times in which we are living. Anyone who is a teacher or school administrator knows how much anxiety there is among young people today; it's like nothing we've ever seen before, i.e., kids having panic attacks either in the classroom or the office, and no one knows the reason for this, although there is a lot of speculation, but nothing conclusive.

There is real fear in the adult world as well, the fear of thinking independently, the fear of losing your job if you don't cave to the pressures of group think, the fear of speaking your mind, the fear of cultural collapse, etc. And it can be argued that all this is rooted in the fear of death.

This gospel gets right at the heart of the matter. In fact, this gospel is the gospel itself; the word means 'good news', and the good news, which is the heart of the Christian faith, is nothing other than the resurrection. The heart of the faith is not the teachings of Christ that we find in the Sermon on the Mount, much less is it the moral doctrines of the Church. The heart of the faith is the resurrection, which is the living proof that God saves. The name Jesus means "Yahweh is salvation". If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then death has the final word over our lives and everything else in the New Testament (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount) might as well be set aside - it's an idealism of very limited and relative value.

But Christ is risen. That means our greatest fear, the fear of the one thing we have no power to overcome, namely death, has been conquered. Death did not have the final word over his life; his resurrected body had the final word over his death. And since he is God and man, the resurrection means "God saves"; it means Jesus is our Savior. If we live our lives in him, and if we die in him, we will rise in him.

One thing that always irks me when I hear eulogies delivered at funerals is the line that so and so "will always live in our hearts". I don't expect to live in anyone's heart for very long after I'm gone; life gets busy very quickly after a funeral, people have things to do, so I expect to be quickly forgotten. The good news is that we are going to live outside the hearts of others, in the reality of place and time, with a glorified body, and as for those who have died before us, we will see and touch them again, because they too will have a glorified body that will never be subject to sickness and death.

An important line in today's gospel is the following: "While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…" This was not a rebellious disbelieving, but a joyous disbelieving. What they were seeing was utterly beyond their ability to expect or understand, and they were filled with joy. So it was a knowledge that brought an utterly different kind of joy. And now faith (which is that "knowledge" of the unbelievable, because it is far above human reason), hope, and charity are possible. Without this resurrection, there is no joy, for there is no knowledge that death has been definitively defeated, and so it is not possible to live a life of real faith that God saves, and of hope that we too will rise and see and touch our loved ones again. At best we can achieve a self-deceiving optimism, but no real hope.

If we have the gift of faith, it means we have the ability to believe that Christ was raised, and that means we have the ability to rise above our fear of death, and if we can rise above our fear of death, then we can rise above any other fear that enters our lives. We have no power to undo the approach of the grave, and there is so much more in this life we have no power over, such as the hearts of others, the evil that exists in the world, political oppression and human ignorance and selfishness, etc. We have no power over any of that, but Christ does, because he has conquered the greatest of evils, so he can conquer all lesser evils, all those evils that are the offspring of sin, death, and the fear of death, such as political oppression, injustices, the schemes and plotting of the devious and malevolent of this world, etc. Nothing happens outside of his control, because he holds the keys of death. He says: "Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the Underworld."

So when death enters our world, such as the death of a loved one, that's the time for us to exercise our faith, and hope, to really think about Easter, the resurrection of Christ. That's when it is our turn to choose to put that faith to action, so to speak, and believe that this tragedy is not the end, but that there is something beyond this tragedy. We have that ability, we've been given that faith, but it is up to us to use it, and the evidence that we have really used that faith will be the joy we will experience knowing that Christ rose and that we will see and touch our loved ones again.