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Victory over death

This is the great day of celebration. By the power of God life is triumphant over death. This is the beginning of the new age in which we see the promises of God being fulfilled. When, through his Word that was made flesh in the birth of Jesus, humankind is given power to become children of God.

Now he has given us hope of fulfilment as his adopted children by restoring our relationship to our Creator:

The restored relationship is for eternity, it is the fulfilment of our destiny, of the promise of life with God. That new life joins us with Christ in life beyond death:

The result of victory over sin and death

It was by being subject to death that Christ overcame it. That humility by which he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, extended to the suffering servant whose service of God had been prophesied so long before.

By taking on himself the burden of the sin of others he allowed himself to suffer the effect of separation from God, which though he was innocent was an experience of great anguish:

As we recalled on Good Friday, this cry of dereliction comes from the beginning of Psalm 22 which ends with an affirmation of faith in the power and goodness of God. Nevertheless, it was a real experience for him. That his actual words in Aramaic were passed on in the language he spoke, rather than only in translation, by the disciples, shows how it stuck in their minds. There are only a few examples of this type of memory in the gospels: one example is the words used to the daughter of Jairus when they said she was dead and he raised her, and another is the way Mary Magdalene called him Lord "Rabbouni!" when she recognised him in the garden risen from the dead and calling her by name. These are dramatic events, concerning life and death, in which details are most likely to be remembered. So his cry from the cross, like his death was really and truly human. At that point he had most completely identified himself with humanity even to the point of being treated as a sinner and experiencing in himself the nature and consequence of sin, which is separation from God. That was a separation from the source of life, so he experienced both sin and death at the same time.

Irenaeus, one of the early Church Fathers put this way: "Fellowship with God is life and light, and the fruition of the good things that are with him. But on those who voluntarily rebel against God, he brings separation from him; and separation from God is death."

Or as Paul saw his identification with us and our separation from God:

We believe that we are reconciled to God through Christ, who thoroughly identified with us, remained obedient and faithful to God, even to death, so God raised him to life and so restored us with him to God himself. It was the work of God who raised him from the dead.

Evidence for the Resurrection

Belief in the resurrection was at the centre of the original belief and proclamation of the early church. It was the foundation of the tradition on which all else depended, as Paul said to the Corinthians about 56 AD, which was only about 20 years after the events for which many witnesses were still living.

The evidence of this victory over separation from God is seen in the resurrection of Jesus. It is an historical event for which we have the witness of the holy women and the apostles. We are not only dealing with analogies or mere symbols of the triumph of good over evil. We believe that were was an objective change in the reality of human life through a real event in the world that we know.

It was the heart of their preaching (Paul at Antioch):

The empty tomb was seen by a number of people: Mary Magdalene and the other women, Peter and, although not itself direct proof, the way the linen cloths were lying there appeared to the disciple "whom Jesus loved" reason to believe, he "saw and believed" [John 20:2,6,8] It suggests that he realized from the empty tomb's condition that the absence of Jesus' body had not, could not, have been of human doing and that Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with Lazarus.

Mary was the first to see him [John 20:11-18], but like others after her she did not at first recognize him. Next were Peter and the apostles [1 Cor 15:5; Luke 22:31-32, 34, 36]. They are not only ones to see him -- Paul speaks of more than 500 people on a single occasion. When the New Testament books were written many of these witnesses were still alive and were well known in the early Church.

It was not a case of their prior beliefs and expectations leading them to see what they expected. The shock of the passion and death had left at least some of them in a state in which they refused to believe what others told them and even when in some cases when they saw him themselves it was difficult for them to accept what had happened. They were sad and frightened.[Luke 24:11,17; John 20:19; Mark 16:11,13]. When Jesus met with them on Easter evening:

The nature of his risen body

They thought at first they were seeing a ghost:

There is other evidence of this kind, that it was not wish fulfilment on a grand scale, but good news reluctantly accepted and verified by the experience of many witnesses.

What they saw and apparently touched, the body of the man who eat with them, was not the same physical body they had known before his death, although it bore the identifying marks of his suffering. Christ did not return to earthly life like Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:22-24,35-43), the young man at Nain (Luke 7:11-17) or Lazarus (John 11:1-44) whom he had raised. At some time they would die again. Christ's resurrection in essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond space and time. His appearances to the disciples were not limited by locked doors or the time needed to travel from one place to another. He enjoys the sovereign freedom henceforth to be present how and where he wills. [Matt 28:9,16-17; Luke 24:15,36; John 20:14,17,19,26; 21:4.] He might or might not be recognized.

So the risen Lord was able to communicate in person with people who could recognize him and many did. We too have the capacity to meet with him, as we do in the Eucharist now, and as we see him in the suffering faces of humanity, know him in our devotions, and as we shall see at the end when we too will be raised up in a new kind of body, not constrained by time and space, in which we will share with him the new life of children restored to the family of God with our first-born brother.

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