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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Does the Resurrection Actually Mean?

Robert Barron - What Does the Resurrection Actually Mean?

Robert Barron - What Does the Resurrection Actually Mean?
TOPICS: Easter, Resurrection

Peace be with you. Friends, for this third Sunday of Easter, I'm going to harp on something. I'm going to harp on it because: the Bible harps on it a lot, and because our culture, I think, often misses it. What I'm going to harp on is the very strangeness of the Resurrection. This is about, I don't know, maybe it's ten years ago or longer. It's when David Cameron was Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was giving a little speech on Easter, and he was trying to articulate the significance of Easter. Here's what he said: "The message of Easter is kindness, compassion, hard work, and responsibility".

Now, I know he was trying to appeal very broadly there to anyone that'd be listening. And don't get me wrong, I'm for kindness, compassion, hard work, and responsibility too. But my guess is that any decent person would be, believer or nonbeliever. A Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, anybody would be in favor of these values. Therefore, that can't be the meaning of Easter. That can't be the meaning of the Resurrection. It's a typical attempt, though, in our contemporary setting to kind of domesticate the Resurrection. What does the Resurrection mean? It means that Jesus of Nazareth, who in his public ministry consistently acted and spoke in the very person of God, who was brutally put to death by the Roman authorities, rose bodily from the dead and appeared alive to his disciples, not an abstraction, not a symbol for some moral or spiritual state of affairs, but this bodily Resurrection of this particular man from the dead.

I'm going to read a little bit here from this magnificent twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, which is filled with these marvelous stories of Resurrection. This is right after the Emmaus account, and the Eleven are gathered in the upper room. And it says, "While they were still speaking about this, he [Jesus] stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.... [But he said,] 'Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.'" I submit to you, everybody, that's a very strange text. Just as they were startled and terrified by the appearance of Jesus, I think we should be a little startled and terrified by this message. Turning it into a bland statement about "Be a nice person" is entirely missing the point of the Resurrection.

Let me try to shed some more light on this by setting up a contrast between this extraordinary account and what a first-century Jew might've been thinking about what happens to us after we die. Because this didn't happen in a vacuum, Jews of the first century had ideas, based in the biblical tradition, about what happens to people when they die. These are all on display in the Bible. First of all, a view, and it was still held by many, still widely held by many Jews today, that death is just the end. That when we die, we go back to dust and that's it. We're dead. It's over.

A second view, also on display in the Bible, is that the dead go to a kind of shadowy underworld. It's called Sheol in the Scriptures. It's a bit like what you find in Greek and Roman mythology too, this kind of unappealing underworld where people are present, they're alive, but not the way they used to be. That's Sheol. Another view, you can find it in the book of Daniel. This is read, by the way, at almost every Catholic funeral. It says, "The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them".

This idea that, after we die, the body goes into the earth, but the soul survives. Now, that's not entirely unlike what some of the Greek philosophers held. So Socrates and Plato would have held some version of that: that our souls escape from the prison of the body, and they live on. Here's still another view that's on display in the Bible, and in Jesus' time, the Pharisees would have held to this very strongly, namely, that we can hope, at the end of time, all the righteous dead will come back to life in the general resurrection. Okay. All of those views were on offer. They were held by people in Jesus' time and place.

I want you to notice, what's being described here in Luke 24, it's not any of that. Certainly not the case that, well, the dead just die and that's it. No, here's Jesus, who died, and he's alive. He's present to them. They're not talking about someone who's gone down to the shadowy realm of Sheol. They're not talking about that. Remember in the Old Testament when, it's the Witch of Endor calls forth the shade of the prophet Samuel from the realm of Sheol. That's not what's being described here at all, but someone who stands before them, and he says "Look, I'm not a ghost. A ghost doesn't have flesh and bones as you can see that I have".

This is not the view that Jesus died, his body went into the earth, and his soul went to heaven. That's not being described here at all. This is not a disembodied soul. No, no. Here he is, standing in their midst. Maybe the closest we've come is to say, what many Jews expected of all the righteous dead at the end of time has happened to this man in the midst of history. Jesus, alive, body and soul, standing before them. Jesus, who had been killed, brutally put to death, now through the power of the Holy Spirit alive again in their midst. I love this detail. It's unique to Luke. It says, when they were "incredulous for sheer joy and amazed".

By the way, what a beautiful reaction to the Resurrection: incredulous for sheer joy, and they were amazed. He said to them, "Have you got anything here to eat"? Don't you love the realism of that? Here's the risen Jesus, wants something to eat, and they give him, it says, "a piece of baked fish," and "he took it and ate it in front of them". May I say again here, and this maybe is for people today who want to domesticate the Resurrection, turning it into a bland symbol, this has nothing to do with dreams, and hallucinations, and vague ideas, and velleities. No, no; this man, once dead, now standing before them, with flesh and bones, and eating fish that they gave to him.

Everybody, that's the strangeness, that's the radicality of the Resurrection. Do you believe it, or not? Do you find deep joy in it? That's the question. That's the challenge that Easter gives us year after year. Okay? Now, once we see that, can we also discern why this matters so much? And can I suggest just two implications by looking at the first two readings? First of all, we have this, in the Acts of the Apostles, magnificent speech of St. Peter. It's a kerygmatic sermon. "Kerygma" means the basic message of the Gospel. So when Peter in the earliest days gets up and tells the people what Christianity is all about, that's the sermon. Now listen to him. "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ... has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence.... You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death".

May I suggest, by the way, this is not someone tickling the ears of his listeners. This is not someone trying to ingratiate himself with his audience. No, no; he's laying it out pretty clearly. St. Peter is seeing the Resurrection as, of course, an affirmation of Jesus. The one who spoke and acted in the very person of God is revealed not to be a liar or a fraud, but true, righteous. But more than that, the message of the Resurrection is also a judgment on all of us sinners, who, in varying ways and to varying degrees, put him to death. Again, let this line sink into your heart as I let it sink into mine. "The author of life you put to death".

You see how the Resurrection of Jesus, and I don't mean some vague fantasy; I mean, God raising Jesus bodily from the dead, is a judgment on all of those who contributed to his Crucifixion. It's a judgment on the cruelty, and the hatred, and the injustice, and the self-absorption that produced the Crucifixion. See, if the Resurrection's a vague symbol, then I am not all that challenged in my sin. Then these words of Peter aren't going to cut me to the heart if the Resurrection’s a vague symbol. But if, no, no, through the power of the Spirit, God the Father raises Jesus from the dead, and he stands before me, I see in his wounds judgment on me. An extraordinary implication of the Resurrection.

And look how Peter's sermon ends. "Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away". Again, this is not ingratiating rhetoric. This is drawing out a very important moral and spiritual implication of the Resurrection: that we must come to repentance. And here's a second implication now, drawn from our second reading from that marvelous First Letter of John. John speaks of an Advocate we now have in heaven. That’s beautiful, isn't it? What does the Resurrection mean? It means that this Jesus who was a denizen of the earth, this Jesus who walked among us, bodily present among us, has now been raised to a participation in the very life of heaven. See, biblical religion, everybody, is not like Greek philosophy. It's not a story of let's endeavor to escape from matter to a higher realm. No; it's a story of how heaven and earth are meant to come together.

Remember in the Our Father: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven". That's a prayer that these two realms might meet. How beautiful that the resurrected Christ eats this piece of fish they gave him. That means that this lowly humanity of ours in Christ has been elevated to the heavenly place. We have an Advocate, a brother of ours who walked the same earth, breathed the same air. A brother of ours has now been brought into the heavenly space. And in that advocacy, we find extraordinary hope. Can I suggest, next time you go to Mass, attend to the language of the prayers. They're often this language of heaven and earth meeting, because that's exactly what Jesus means.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us"; Jesus' flesh now elevated to heaven. You see how a connection between heaven and earth has been established. That's what the Resurrection means. Turn the Resurrection into a vague myth or symbol? No, no, no; then none of this powerful cosmological truth is expressed. So, the bottom line: Can I urge you, sometime today or maybe just during the Easter season, open up your Bibles to Luke chapter 24, a kind of masterpiece within the masterpiece. Enter into these stories of Resurrection, and realize now the full radicality of what is being claimed: Jesus Christ, truly risen from the dead. And God bless you.
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