Saturday, May 7, 2011

11-04-24: Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34,37-43 / Psalm 118 / Colossians 3:1-4 / Victimae paschali laudes / John 20:1-9

The stunning thing about Christian belief in Easter – the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in his human body – is that it makes a lie of the adage that nothing changes, least of all human nature. Remember that the revelation of Easter is not about the immortality of the soul but of the promise of eternity made to the human person comprising both soul and body. Easter is the story of both our origin and our destiny.

In Pope Benedict’s recently published Jesus of Nazareth (Part Two) he states that the “resurrection could be regarded as something akin to a radical ‘evolutionary leap,’ in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.”

I’m uncertain whether the pope intended to reference evolution as only a metaphor. In certain circles evolution is a tainted term that suggests a mindless change in nature, rather than what we might understand as a development – a moving toward, if you will. When discussing human origins some Christians reject any semblance of evolution and insist on what they call ‘special creation’ when referring to the advent of humanity. As Catholics we have the freedom to accept theories of evolution provided we acknowledge that, at some point in time, God breathed into man a soul; God creating us, at that particular moment, in his ”image and likeness.” I’d like to think that moment also included the dawn of self-consciousness, that somehow soul and consciousness are intimately linked one to the other.

If you’ve ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might remember the scene in the very beginning of the film when the camera closes in on a ape-like creature, a primate, who is hitting one stone upon the other. As the camera comes closer, the classical music in the background builds to a crescendo, and the viewer, without need for dialogue, understands that the creature who at first is mindlessly banging one stone upon another suddenly realizes what he is doing. The creature becomes aware, self-conscious, stepping across that chasm between the purely animal to what we have come to know as human, homo sapiens sapiensthe being who knows that he knows.

Ever since people started giving voice to their doubts about the historical veracity of the scriptures, particularly in the nineteenth century, what are called the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus have been called into question. What came to be known as the “Liberal Protestant” school of thought suggested that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, as well as the resurrection itself, were but metaphors for psychological experience. This solved the awkward question, recorded in the scriptures, regarding the repeated inability of those who had known Jesus before his death to easily recognize him after his resurrection. But if that were true, and the evangelists were simply trying to make a psychological point, why include that awkward detail about not being able to recognize the risen Lord. It’s one of those anomalies that make you think twice, to step back and consider that it may well be indeed plausible that, after Jesus’ death and burial, the disciples did encounter Jesus; and the encounter was a physical one, involving at least four of the five senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching). In other words, it could not have been simply a psychological event. Most of the pagan world already believed in the immortality of the soul: no big revelation there. What’s new about Easter is the startling revelation, not about soul or psyche, but about the body.

Taking the evolutionary metaphor (if it is that) a step further, we might fancy that there remains a fossil record as well. The famed Shroud of Turin, imaging a man badly beaten and having endured crucifixion, mysteriously and, thus far, inexplicably replicated onto the shroud. The story of Veronica’s Veil - what is literally called the true image of the suffering Christ – would be another missing link in the journey from time into eternity. And the Church, often called the Body of Christ, is that living fossil, possessing the power to guide each of us on this evolutionary pilgrimage from earth to heaven, from suffering to joy, from the mundane into glory.

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