My final column in the series was published last Frifay in the Scottish Catholic Observer. If you missed it the full text is here.
This is the end of the story of the way of the cross. It is not on the traditional service in most churches but is increasingly recognised. We miss the essential message of the Way if we skip the Resurrection.
Just what happened on that first Easter Sunday? I decided to read again the gospel accounts. They are not all the same. Matthew tells us of Mary Magdalene and other women going to the tomb to complete the preparation of the body. He tells us of an earthquake as the stone is rolled away by an angel. The angel sat on the stone. The guards were so frightened they were like dead men.
The angel tells the women that Jesus has risen from the dead and has gone. Mark, Luke and John tell us the stone had already been rolled away when the women arrived and the number of angels varies between one and two. Should these differences cause us to doubt the story? Modern experience of witness testimony of crimes and road accidents shows that accounts can vary when something dramatic happens. If the story was being invented the accounts would surely be identical. I think we see four different memories of what happened on that day; Jesus rose from the dead.
The first thing that strikes me is the account is the angels. We don’t talk much about angels nowadays. They are unfashionable. We are a bit embarrassed at any mention of angels. Yet, here, at the crucial event of Christianity, the angel is the major player. I must confess that angels have not played much of a role in my adult life. That was true until one day in Nigeria when I was being driven to a small school by a local priest. He drove on the right as is the law in Nigeria, unless he felt that the left hand side was a better surface. In fact he just moved from side to side for no apparent reason. As you can imagine we had a few rear misses. That was when I rediscovered my Guardian Angel. His work was cut out that day but I survived.
Angels are a manifestation of Divine intervention in normal life. This intervention is difficult to accept for those of us who have a scientific outlook; specifically an ill-informed scientific outlook. Quantum physics would have us believe that things can exist in two places at once. Science tells us to look beyond what we can see. Real scientists recognise the limits of our understanding. I suppose if we can believe in quarks we can believe in angels.
Our Christian belief is founded on the Resurrection. It is the proof of the supernatural aspect of our existence. We can believe that our earthly life is only a tiny part of our true being. We are destined to have an eternal existence. My understanding of what Heaven is like is unclear and can only be described as sketchy. At the end of a hard week I can collapse into a chair and wonder how long I can keep this up? How would I manage to keep going for eternity? It’s a scary thought.
Of course the heavenly existence we are promised will be very different from our limited life on earth. We will hopefully he resurrected without our imperfections. I wonder how I would be recognised without my imperfections. There might not be much left if they are all removed. The nature of the afterlife has been of interest to mankind even before the time of Christ. Ancient Egyptians built enormous pyramids to house dead pharaohs and other important people. The Romans believed that emperors would become gods after they died.
Archaeologists have explored the burial places of ancient people to find, not only bones but food for the journey, money, hunting dogs and weapons. Some expected to arrive in the afterlife with all the trappings of their earthly status. They reckoned without Howard Carter and his ilk. Their graves have been opened and their riches removed. In fact the archaeologists found that most of the graves had been robbed long ago.
Of course we are more sophisticated than that. We have learned from the archaeological work that you can’t take it with you when you go. Well, perhaps not. Recent reports show that about one percent of the people hold about half of the world’s wealth and their share is growing. What can they possibly do with all that money? They spend it of course! London is apparently one of the places that the super-rich like to spend their money. They buy millionaire residences with underground swimming pools, cinemas, lavish apartments and helicopter landing pads. They have luxury yachts in the Mediterranean and fancy homes all over the world.
The strange thing is that many of these things lie unused. London has more than its share of empty mansions, their value increasing day by day and nobody enjoying them. It would appear that not only can you not take it with you when you go, you can’t even enjoy it all while you are here. Death must be a terrible prospect for the super-rich. They will have to leave all their money behind.
So what message does the resurrection have for us? There is the promise that one day we will leave this very limited existence behind and join God in a new, unimaginable life. That’s a pretty wonderful promise. Nothing we can have here can compare with what is to come. There is more. If this is not our final home then we can ignore the lure of power and riches. We have one life here. How can we use that time best? How can we best make use of the resources we find around us?
Entry into heaven will not be automatic. You can’t buy your way in with gold and silver and you can’t get in on your own. You can only enjoy heaven as part of the mystical body of Christ. We can all be part of the body and that makes all of us one person. To get into heaven we need to start behaving like that now in our life on earth. It’s how we behave towards our fellow man that will determine what kind of afterlife we will have.
As real Christians we need to show an example to the world. We need to be Christ like in everything we do in great things and small things. We are living in a world where innocent, ordinary people are being killed and enslaved from the Black Sea through the Middle East and Africa. They are not distant strangers. They are part of the same body as us. They are part of us and we must recognise this.
The poor and underprivileged here are suffering in an economic situation where others are getting richer. Can we afford to just shrug our shoulders and say that there’s nothing we can do about that? I don’t think that’s the Christian way. It’s not the way of the resurrection; it’s not the way of the cross. If we are to be resurrected and attain heaven then we will do it together. When Jesus was dying on the cross it was the good thief who was promised resurrection. He was a confessed thief but he spoke out for the innocent Christ. Who will we speak out for?
Watch out for what’s to come next month.