A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Death of Jesus…

by Fr Neil Vaney SM

… and how the Resurrection Changes the Way We See the World

The disbelief

One of the objections devout Muslims have with Christianity is that the All-Holy and All-Powerful One could die as a man. Others, who lean towards conspiracy theories, believe that Jesus's disciples rescued him from the cross, then hid him, while spreading abroad the story that he had risen. They, like many non-Christians, refuse to believe in the resurrection.

The inevitability of death

Roman soldiers were veterans at despatching the crucified. They’d done it hundreds of times. Part of the barbarism was to allow bystanders to see the cost of rebellion, even to death, which they ensured with a final deadly lance thrust into the heart (John 19.34). In medical terms, the process involved weakness from severe blood loss, gradual asphyxiation, as tortured lungs no longer draw air, and finally, heart failure.

Christ's body was then anointed, wrapped in a winding-sheet, and placed in a tomb sealed with a massive rock (Luke 23.52-3). The authorities posted guards to deter tomb robbers (Matthew 27:62-66), which helps us to understand why Jesus' disciples were so sceptical when the women came to report to them that his body had disappeared (Luke 24.11).

To die is to be human

The Catholic belief is that Jesus, though divine, was also totally human. Part of being human is to know the inevitability of death, to know that we all have to pass into that dark night. Jesus also accepted that to be totally one of us he had to walk the same road, leaving all else behind, while looking on the apparent loss of hope and desertion of his followers.

It’s this darkness and sense of the loss of everything that makes the Christian story of resurrection so stunning, even shocking. Given such a paradox, what is impossible, humanly speaking?

The classical view of life was of an endless circle. In Greek theatre, actors entered the stage, played their part and exited before re-entering wearing a different mask. Fate allotted the same roles of youthful exuberance, mid-life blooming, and old-age decay to all, and wisdom came with acceptance. Seasons came and went, but the eternal cycle was inexorable.

How the resurrection changes our view

Judaism challenged the classical belief. God had created the world and would judge it at the end of time. But once life was over, it was over.

That’s why the news of Jesus’ resurrection from a public and shameful death came as something beyond belief. Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener while his nearest male disciples scoffed and rejected the women’s account of the empty tomb. Once they saw him, however, everything changed. Despite being flogged and imprisoned, they clung unshakeably to their belief. Though they were uneducated labourers, they preached and wrote and travelled to far off countries to spread the word of Jesus’s rising from the dead.

Resurrection is the central Christian belief. It changes how we see the world. Life is no longer a closed circle but a spinning vortex that will sooner or later propel each one of us onto a higher level of existence. A belief in the afterlife affects our now, not just our future. Age-old habits and patterns of despair are shattered, cast-iron beliefs are thrown aside. The world flowers anew. Christ is risen. Now he will never die again.

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