March 31, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Easter Sunday
Reading I (Acts 10:34a, 37-43) Reading II (Colossians 3:1-4)
Gospel (St. John 20:1-9)
Christ is raised from the dead; therefore, set your hearts on what pertains to the higher realms. This is what Saint Paul advises in the second reading today. Because we have been raised with Christ, we are no longer just earthly beings; but rather, we share the life of Heaven already. Not in its fullness, obviously, but we are already there; we already share the divine life. We are already called citizens of Heaven. Saint Paul goes so far as to remind us that we are merely on pilgrimage in this life because we have our citizenship in Heaven. It is from there, he tells us, that we await the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that He will come again.
But long before that, we must grapple with the reality that He is risen from the dead. We hear in the last line of the Gospel that the apostles did not understand yet what it meant to rise from the dead. And I must say that, after 2,000 years of Christian people passing on the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus, I would be willing to bet that if we took a poll, most of us here do not understand what it means to rise from the dead because we have no experience of this. We have the teaching of the Church; we have the clear witness of the Scriptures, but because we do not see it happen to anybody in our own day, we do not understand it. If someone who had been dead were to stand before us in a resurrected form and explain to us what the difference was, perhaps we would understand it a little bit. For now, all we can do is accept it on faith and look forward with hope to the day when our bodies will rise from the dead.
What we can say about the Resurrection is that it is not a resuscitation. Modern medicine is able to resuscitate people, sometimes even after they have been dead for nearly an hour. We are not talking about that. Those people will all have to die again, just like Lazarus. Even though he had been in the tomb for four days, Lazarus was not resurrected, he was resuscitated. And poor Lazarus, after coming back from the dead, had to live this life again – or a continuation of it – before he could die and his soul could go to be with God.
When we talk about Our Lord when He rose from the dead, what that means is that His soul was reunited with His body. But His body no longer had the earthly form that it had before; it was now in a glorified state. Remember what happened at the Transfiguration when the body of Our Lord began to glow. That is a little inkling of what the Resurrection would be like. We must understand that it is really and truly the body of Jesus. That is made very clear for us, for instance, in the first reading when Saint Peter reminds us that Jesus appeared to them and He ate and drank with them.
It is not like the appearance of one of the saints. For instance, if you were to have a vision of one of the saints in glory, what you have is merely a vision. The saints do not have their bodies yet in Heaven. And so it is like an angel appearing, except an angel does not have a body. God gives them something so that we can see, but the body is not really there. If you were to reach out and touch a vision of an angel or to touch a vision of one of the saints, your hand would be able to grasp nothing.
But if Jesus were to stand here before us and we were to reach out and touch Him, like Thomas, we would be able to put our fingers into the holes in His hands and His feet; we would be able to put our hand into the wound in His side because it is not merely a vision. The apostles, when they saw Jesus in the Upper Room, did not have a vision of Our Lord; Our Lord was there with them, physically present among them. It was His body and His soul. He had life, but not the way that we understand it in the natural sense. He had a life which could not be destroyed. In His humanity, He now shared fully in a life which was everlasting.
We know that our soul is immortal and it will never die. The soul of Jesus did not die either. When His body and soul separated on the Cross at the moment that He died, His soul went into the regions of the netherworld, to the abode of the dead. Saint Peter tells us that He went there to preach the Gospel to the saints of the Old Testament. Those who had already rejected God would not accept Jesus, even when He stood before them in the netherworld. But people like Abraham, Moses, and David, even Saint Joseph was there, and they heard the fullness of the Gospel preached and they believed. So on the day of the Resurrection, when the abode of the dead was ended, those souls who did not believe in the Lord were condemned into the eternal fires, as we now think of them. But those who believed could rise to life.
But even for them, they have not yet experienced the [general] resurrection. For those who are in Heaven, the resurrection has not yet occurred. Their soul continues to live, but they still await the day that their bodies will rise from the dead. If we were to go to the tomb of any saint, we would be able to exhume the body and find that it is still there. If we go to the tomb of Jesus, He is not there. The disciples witnessed that, and gave witness on behalf of that fact, when Peter and John ran to the tomb to verify what Saint Mary Magdalene had already understood - that the Lord was not there. Saint Mary Magdalene thought that perhaps the gardener had removed the body. She did not understand what the resurrection of the dead meant; and neither did the disciples, until Jesus actually appeared to them and ate and drank with them.
So too for us now, while we continue to live in this vale of tears, Saint Paul tells us that we are to set our sights on the higher things where Christ is already seated at God’s right hand and we are already seated there with Him. Because we are members of Jesus Christ, we share the life of Christ. And we already share spiritually in the Resurrection because of our baptism. Remember what Saint Paul tells the Romans: that when we were baptized, we entered into the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The "old man" has died so that the "new man" could put on a new life. And we are to live that new life. While we have to live in this world, we are not to be of this world. We are not to be like the worldly people who surround us everyday; but rather, we are to live as exiles in a foreign land. We are to have our hearts set upon our homeland, the place where we want to go back to, the place where we want to be forever. This place is temporary, but we have a place in Heaven which is permanent. So do not live in this life as though this was a permanent place, but set your sights on Heaven. Set your heart on the place where you will be with Jesus for eternity, and live in this world in such a way that you are living for the next life.
If you consider yourself an exile, you are not going to surround yourself with loads of material things because the day that you have an opportunity to go back to your own homeland, what are you going to take with you? You live simply in a land of exile, awaiting the day that you will be able to pack up your belongings quickly and take them with you so that you could restart your own home. We want to do the same now. Do not live as though this was the end-all and be-all. Live in this world with your heart set on the next. Do not get weighed down with all the material things of this world, but rather, prepare for yourself the spiritual goods so that, on the day that the Lord calls, you can very quickly put your house together and you will be ready to go to your heavenly homeland where you will have an eternal place with God.
Then our soul will be with the Lord, as we await the day of the resurrection of our own body, the last day of the world when Saint Paul tells us that at the sound of the archangel’s trumpet the graves of the dead will be opened and the bodies will rise. For those whose souls have gone to hell, their bodies will go there to be with them forever, and they will suffer the torments in the fullness of their humanity, both body and soul. And for the souls of the just, their bodies will rise and they will be joined with their souls, and then they will share in the fullness of the glory of God in the fullness of their humanity, both body and soul, beholding God face to face, and being filled with His grace and His glory in the fullness of what it means to be human. Not merely just spiritually, but both body and soul.
That is what we need to prepare ourselves for even now, to begin to live that life of glory even here, because we have the Resurrected Jesus Christ with us in the Blessed Sacrament. You will receive Him in Holy Communion in just a moment, where you will once again renew the covenant which began at Baptism. And you, in just a moment, will have the opportunity to renew your baptismal vows where you will once again reiterate your belief in the resurrection from the dead.
So as we go forward now, commit yourself to live not for this world but for the next. Live in this world with your heart set on the higher realms where Christ is already seated at God’s right hand, and unite yourself with Him there. Commit yourself to a life of daily prayer so you can raise your heart and your mind to eternity. Live your life in this world with your heart set upon the next so that on the day God calls you home, you will be ready to go and that on the last day of the world, at the time the archangel sounds his trumpet, when your body – this one right here in the pew – rises from the dead, it will be able to be reunited with a glorified soul and behold God face to face in the eternity of His glory.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.