Elementary, My Dear Christians

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Let us start with a passage from the   letter to the   Hebrews. ‘Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and  not laying  again the foundation: repentance from dead works and   faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of   the dead, and  eternal  judgment’ (Heb 6:1-2). The authentic teaching of the  Church in subjects like repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection of the  dead, and  eternal judgment are considered elementary. Any catholic worthy of  the name should be  thorough with these aspects of  faith.

Still we  see many around us who doubt these basic tenets of  Christianity. This  should be  viewed from  a wider perspective  of the  looming apostasy   that is  threatening  the   foundations  of our  collective identity as Christians and ultimately  endangering   our salvation.  The  confusion  regarding  such elementary  aspects of   our faith is more  glaring when it comes to the  resurrection of the  dead. Though the   teaching of the  Church is  crystal clear, many  doubting Thomases still remain. They need proof  for   even the absolute truth. Sadly, it is  hard to come, not  because there is any dearth of  evidence, but because their hearts  are not open to  receive the truth. Obstinately  continuing  with  one’s  doubting nature  will get him nowhere.  James writes;  ‘For the  doubter, being  double- minded and  unstable in every way, must not expect to receive  anything  from the Lord’ (Jas 1: 7-8).

The Word of God is not for the doubter, but for those who ‘hear the Word, hold it fast in an honest and  good heart, and  bear  fruit with  patient  endurance’ (Lk 8:15).  It is  the devil himself who sows the  seeds of  disbelief in the  hearts of   the faithful.  Being  engaged in a fierce  battle  for the  ultimate control of  human souls, the devil employs  this  clandestine instrument of  doubt to deceive  the  children of  God.  The devil  often  comes to us   not  for a  head-on  engagement. Patience is one thing  that  he  values very much. Perhaps the devil is the person who practices the  virtue of  patience more than any of us.  He is  ready to wait  till the  final harvest. But  he has already  done his  part by  sowing the  seeds of   doubt into our souls. He knows for sure that this seed of   disbelief will grow with time and  will  once become a  big tree.

As far as    God’s relation with us mortals are concerned, the  devil has no   dispute with  God except for   the  eternal  bliss He has reserved for  His children. The devil  is  jealous towards us because we are  made heirs to this  great inheritance, which he forfeited with  his pride and disobedience. We receive our  eternal reward once we  rise  again after death.  A natural death of our body  and  its  supernatural  resurrection  is essential to   enter the kingdom of eternal glory. Hope in this  resurrection is  what  binds us to  Jesus Christ, who is the only  person in  history who has risen from the  dead. It is  his promise that  whoever believes in  the Lord, who himself is   resurrection and life, will inherit eternal life.  Before raising  Lazarus from the  dead,  Jesus taught this cardinal rule of  eternal  life to  Martha. Jesus said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though  they die, will live, and everyone  who lives and believes  in  me will never die” (Jn 11: 25- 26).

Our faith in  the resurrection  of our body has its roots in  what   our Lord said. We do not need external evidence to  substantiate the existence of life after death.  If Jesus rose from the  dead, he  will raise  us also from  the  dead. But for the  doubter it is a big ‘if’, because  it  has  not  gone deep into  his  heart that  Jesus did rise from the dead.  If we do not  believe in the   resurrection  of Jesus Christ,  it is impossible to believe  that one day  we also  will be  raised.

What should be  elementary to our  faith viz  the  teaching about the   resurrection of the  dead, has been a source of  confusion, purely because the devil has  effectively used  our  own  lack of faith in the  resurrection of  our  Lord  so as  to inject  into us   the falsity  that  there is nothing beyond life. If there is  nothing beyond life, then our faith is  in vain, says Paul. ‘If there is  no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if  Christ has not been raised, then our  proclamation has been in vain and your faith  has been in vain’ (1 Cori. 15:13-14). It is  such a basic teaching that  the  lack  of faith in it  makes everything  else  we do in the   process of evangelization  become futile.

If we are  proclaiming a  gospel sans  resurrection of the  dead, we are  living for  this life only about whom  Paul says; ‘If for this   life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cori 15:19).

It is  elementary, my dear Christians. It is sad to  remind  Christians again and again  about  this cardinal  part of   our faith. But often we have to  do it because the  spirit of this  world has permeated their   minds  to  such an extent that  they started  believing  every falsity at the cost  of  the  revealed truth.

The belief in resurrection was  so strong in the  early Church. In his letter to the  Corinthians, Paul mentions the  practice of   receiving  baptism on behalf of the  dead. ‘Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the  dead are not raised at all, why are people  baptized on their behalf? (1 Cori 15:29).

Now if you simply buy the argument that there is  no resurrection for the  dead, you are no better than atheists and materialists, because for them life is  for this world only and they value the  pleasures of this  life  more than anything else. Paul warns us against the  risk of  falling  for this kind of  misguided  teachings  that proclaim the  false gospel of  material pleasure; ‘If the  dead are not raised, ”Let us  eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die.” (1 Cori. 15:32).

One starts to  doubt the  possibility of  resurrection when his knowledge  about the scriptures and the power of God  becomes inadequate.  Jesus himself  once said  this to the Sadducees, who  did not believe in resurrection.  “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor  the power of God?” (Mark 12:24).  It follows that  any person having gone through the  Scripture should  be able to assert his belief in  resurrection of the dead. It is a plain  and undeniable truth.  See how  Jesus  clears the  air in the matter. “And as for the  dead being raised, have you  not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the  bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the  God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” (Mark 12: 26-27).

We believe in a  God who likes to be the God of the living. Do you think that such a God will let his  children  perish and  disappear at the moment of death? No. This perishable life in this passing world is the precursor to a life everlasting in a kingdom that  exists forever. God has sown the seeds of eternity in  our  mortal bodies and  its harvest  takes place after death at the   time appointed  by  God for our   transit to  eternity. ‘What is sown is perishable, what  is  raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, It is raised a spiritual body. If there is a  physical body, there is also a spiritual body’ (1 Cori 15:42-44). Everything about  our faith in the resurrection of  the dead is summarized in  these words  of Paul.

As you sow, so  shall you reap. If you sow good things for  the spirit, you will reap a good harvest in spirit. The  thought that  this body is to be  raised  again in glory should rule us at all times. We hope to   achieve resurrection  not by our merits but by our faith in the risen Lord.  To be raised in  the Lord, we should first die in  the Lord. ‘For since we believe that  Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died’ (2 Thes 4:14). It is not without  reason that  Christians describe death as falling asleep in the Lord. Death is but a short sleep after which  we will open our eyes to a  new dawn, in  a  new and hitherto unknown place.

None of us have first hand  experience  about life after death. But there are  persons who have seen the risen Lord. Let us try to  know  how they felt when Jesus Christ appeared to  them  after resurrection.  We are familiar with  the picture of  Mary Magdalene who  stood weeping outside the  tomb (Jn 20:11). She was  pleading to  get the  body of  Jesus.  Jesus knew how deep was her  commitment to  him and  it was  no surprise that   he blessed  Mary Magdalene by  appearing to her, even before  he visited his  beloved  disciples. But the interesting part is that  when Jesus appeared to her, Mary Magdalene could not recognize him.  Mary, who was  closely associated with Jesus, failed to  recognize Jesus. Isn’t it surprising? 

We get a  clue to the  answer  on the  way to  Emmaus. Two of the  disciples were  traveling from Jerusalem to  Emmaus. Somewhere down the road  Jesus joined them, talked to them in length and  entered their house  with them. But they could not  recognize him! It was when ‘he took the  bread, blessed and  broke it, and  gave it to them’ (Lk 24:30) that their eyes were opened.  They immediately  returned to   Jerusalem and  told other  disciples  their  experience. While the disciples were talking about this, Jesus  himself  stood among them and  said to them, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36). ‘But they were startled and  terrified, and thought that  they were seeing a ghost’ (Lk 24:37). Looks strange indeed. None of the  disciples  could  identify the  person  who wished them peace was the prince of  peace! It needed  a detailed  explanation  from the  Lord to  convince  the disciples.

Then comes the  encounter at  the shores of   Tiberias.  Jesus was  waiting  for the disciples  who were  returning empty handed after a whole night’s  toil. They  could not recognize their  Master even during  daylight and  even after  hearing  his words! They  needed a  miracle of  a net full of  fish to realize that  it was indeed their  Lord  who was standing  before them!

Why  none of these persons to whom Jesus appeared after resurrection  could recognize him? Because  a resurrected  body is different from a mortal body. Paul explains; ‘There are both heavenly bodies and  earthly bodies, but the glory of  the  heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is  another’ (1 Cori 15:40). A resurrected body is not  like an earthly body. But to see  and identify a heavenly body, we need eyes focused on heaven.  As long as our  eyes are  focused on worldly  things, it is   impossible for us to experience the  heavenly vision. This is exactly what  happens to those who  doubt the  resurrection of the body.  There is an earthly body.  After death and at the time of resurrection, this earthly body assumes a whole new  appearance in glory  and becomes a heavenly body.

When we  look at how  the  Bible describes the   occasion of   the last judgment, we will get   more insight into the  resurrection of the dead. ‘And I saw the  dead, great and small, standing before the  throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the  dead were  judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the  dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the  dead that were in them and all were judged according to what they had done’ ( Rev. 20:12-13). We read that the sea  has given up the  dead that were in it so that  they can be presented  before the  throne of  judgment. Similarly, Death and  Hades  also  will have to give up the  dead  so  as to  make their appearance before the just  judge  when called for.

The  last enemy to be defeated  is  death (1 Cori 15:26) and this  is  accomplished  in its perfect sense when the elect start life  everlasting with their God. We call this the  consummation of things,  the  consummation of  time and  history. Because at this point  we return to the  point  from where we started our  journey in  history. In the  Book of Wisdom we read; ‘God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to  his company experience it’ (Wis 2:23-24). Now imagine God’s plan as a straight road  extending infinitely  to both directions and  guaranteeing  seamless  movement. Life in this world – from the fall of  man to the moment of last judgment –  is a loop  placed  midway  in the   road, through which we have  to  pass for a short while and again enter the road at  the  same  point  where  we  left it  and   then continue   our  journey. A body was given to us  just for  the  sake of  making  this  short  journey  through the loop and  once it is  completed, it is logical for us to be  given   a ’new body’  because  a mortal body is neither  fit nor is it  designed for  a journey that  extends till eternity.  ‘Flesh and Blood cannot inherit  the kingdom of God nor does the  perishable  inherit the  imperishable’ (1 Cori. 15:50).

To enjoy  life in an  imperishable world, we need an imperishable body and   it is given at the  time of  our resurrection. It is elementary, my dear Christians! Resurrection of our  bodies will happen one day,  and  that day  is closer than we  think.  But our  eternal destiny  in the  new body  depends on the seed that we  sow and  nurture in  our   earthly life. This is the  importance of keeping our bodies holy. Let me conclude with  a verse from the letter of  Paul to the Romans; ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present  your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to  God, which is your spiritual  worship’ (Rom12:1).  Because  this body is to be  raised again!

Let us pray: Eternal Father who gives life to the  dead,  and  existence to  the inexistent, bless us with the grace to live in the  faith that  our bodies will be  resurrected one day. May this  conviction help  us to  present our   bodies  as a  holy  sacrifice  acceptable to you. Amen.

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