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The Mystery of the Resurrection

The following excerpts are from Part II, Chapter 2, of a book by His Beatitude Ignatius IV (1920-2012), Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Titled The Resurrection and Modern Man, the book was published by SVS Press in 1985 and was still in print at the time of his repose on December 5, 2012.

     According to a certain human logic, we should begin by asking ourselves about the meaning of death, in order then to understand the meaning of "resurrection"; that is, if it is true that to "rise from the dead" means to come to life again after having once been dead. I dare put forth this elementary observation so that we can better grasp its ambiguity, indeed its sheer senselessness. This sort of approach would be pointless in the first place because in fact death has no meaning: it is pure absurdity, the very essence of non-meaning. Within the light of the resurrected Christ, we understand that no death has "meaning" or positive significance other than that which is beyond death, in the life that the reality of death both hides and reveals, giving us access to it. This awareness can be ours, however, only from within the event of the Lord's Resurrection. Therefore we will begin with the Resurrection itself, and only then will we ask the question, "Death, where is your victory?"

     The approach that would begin by asking the "meaning" of death is inane for another reason, for it presupposes a confusion that is widespread today concerning the meaning of the term "resurrection." This mysterious word is all too often used in the limited sense of "to come back to life." The crucial point, however, is that the Resurrection of Christ does not involve the simple reanimation of a dead body. It is something wholly different from the resuscitation of Lazarus; it is, in fact, unique. We cannot grasp the meaning of Jesus' Resurrection by taking as our starting point of His physical death. To the contrary, the death of Jesus of Nazareth only has meaning in the light of His Resurrection. Only Christ's Resurrection can explain what led up to it and what followed it, including the very mystery of death in which we find ourselves involved at every moment. If death remains the inexplicable enigma whose absurdity strips away all meaning from our own existence and that of humanity as a whole, the Resurrection of Christ stands as the unique event that bestows its universal Truth upon all that exists....

     We should stress once again the fact that the Resurrection of Christ is not an event like any other, on the order of historical phenomena that can be investigated by the media. From a superficial point of view, this is what distinguishes it from Christ's Passion, an "event" about which we have very precise and detailed accounts. No hidden witness inside the tomb could have taken a photo of the event of the Resurrection! On the other hand, any contemporary reporter could have filmed Lazarus as he came forth from the tomb. No, the Resurrection of Christ is no ordinary event that can be analyzed by scientific methods; nevertheless, it is an historical fact, a true event that occured in the course of our history and vitally concerns our history. We can even say that the Resurrection is in the image of the true and living God. Although not an ordinary event, it is nonetheless the most real event of all times.

     In Biblical terms, we could say that the Resurrection is not a "flesh and blood" event, but rather an event of the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom which dwells both among and within us. The Body of Christ that rises from the dead is truly a Body; it is a living Body; it is a living Body-St. Paul would say, "a spiritual Body," filled with the Breath of God, the divine Pneuma that knows nothing of death.

      Without repudiating our exegetical approaches to the question, we can nevertheless understand the discretion of the Evangelists who refuse to describe the Lord's Resurrection, while they devote the most important part of their testimony to His Passion. The fact that Jesus suffered and died is a reality seen and known by everyone who was present. It was a concrete fact, even if its meaning escaped most of those who witnessed it. The Resurrection is also a fact; it is, however, a mystery: the extraordinary Mystery of God and man that no longer contains the ambiguity inherent in the interpretation of ordinary phenomena. Either it remains unknown and inaccessible, or else it is radiant with meaning. To be more precise, it is not an "event" in and of itself, concrete, capable of being isolated and analyzed by subsequent investigation that could only interpret it and explain its meaning in a remote and exterior way. To the contrary, it is the purest form of "relational event," relating with all that is inseparable from creation and from the Creator, illumining all things from within and giving meaning to all, since it is both the origin and the end of all....

     Through all these stages in the history of salvation, a marvelously faithful plan is revealed; insofar as we read that history, we see it in the Bible and in our own lives, in the light of the Resurrection. For there we find the gift of life, from its first appearance until its full bloom. The Resurrection of Jesus is the manifestation, once and for all in the humanity assumed by the Son of God, of the mystery of life in the Holy Trinity. Starting from this moment, God begins to be all in all. The Resurrection is the beginning of the Parousia, the unfolding of the transparent revelation of God and of man.

     What in fact is opposed to this communion in the light which is the ultimate good news (I John 1:1-8), if not death? We shall discover the true Biblical meaning of death in the light of Christ. Let us say right away, however, that death is not primarily a matter of biological decomposition, for that is only its consequence. Death is fundamentally a rupture of communion, a missed relation (khata'a in Hebrew and Arabic, "to miss the goal"). It provokes a rupture between two beings who ought to be united. Everything else is a consequence of this mortal wound: sin, suffering, law...The Resurrection of Christ, then, is the event of salvation brought about by the living God, by which a man definitively pierced through the wall of death. Henceforth this Jesus, who is truly the Son of God and truly shares our humanity, is truly Man without any mortal limit. Space, time, the past and the future, superficiality of relationships and our absence from one another, all these marks of death can no longer touch Him and no longer hold Him in bondage. The risen Christ is the only man who is in present and perpetual communion with all beings. Just as the tomb could not retain His humanity, so the hardness of our hearts and the many obstacles that stand between us can no longer break the covenant of love that unites Him to us. He is God, present to everyone and to everything. As man, He is not only a living being; He has become a "life-giving" Spirit" (I Cor. 15:45).