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The Easter explosion

What happened on Easter Sunday was the most explosive experience in human history, shattering all previous expectations of human destiny.

(Image: Bruno van der Kraan/Unsplash.com)

Let me adapt to recent circumstances a thought-experiment theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar proposed decades ago:

Imagine that a friend contracts a severe case of COVID-19 and medicine can do no more for him. The doctors inform his widowed mother and us, so we gather with her for the final scene in the drama of this life. The ventilator is removed; the man grows weaker from lack of breath and whispers his final farewells. We hear the death-rattle. Then he expires and takes on the pallor of death.

The mortician prepares the body for burial. With appropriate prayers, we consign our friend to the earth and, taking a cue from our Jewish friends, toss a clod of earth onto his coffin as it lies deep in the open grave. The grave is then closed and we leave for our homes, saddened, perhaps a bit disoriented, remembering our friend’s past and unsure about our own futures.

Then two days later, our friend suddenly stands before us, like one just returned from a brief but important journey. He greets us by name. Physical barriers like doors mean nothing to him.

What would happen to us?

We would be stunned, incapable of knowing the appropriate reaction: shock, fear, overwhelming joy? What is happening shatters the boundaries of experience and strains emotion’s limits to the breaking point. Reality itself seems to be detonating around us. We wonder: Can this be real? Then our friend shows himself to us again and again, whole and renewed. He explains things as he used to do, eats with us, challenges us to be greater than we typically think we can be. He now seems to live in another dimension of existence – thoroughly human, but radiantly more so.

By placing ourselves imaginatively in that situation today, we begin to get some idea of what the friends of Jesus experienced on Easter Sunday and in the period between that explosive day and his leave-taking, 40 days later. But there is more. For slowly and haltingly, those who met the Risen One, and those who believed what his closest friends said about him, came to understand that the now transfigured Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth “truly was the son of God” (Mark 15:39).

A man had returned from a journey to the realm of the dead. Death, relentless in its finality, no longer had the last word about the human condition. What God had had in mind for humanity “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) had been reclaimed by the Son of God for all who believed in him and bound themselves to his cause.

So history now seemed quite different to those first believers. History was no longer an arena of ultimate personal defeat. History, and our personal stories, they came to understand, played to a divine melody: everlasting communion with the Creator, disclosed in the Resurrection.

What happened on Easter Sunday was the most explosive experience in human history, shattering all previous expectations of human destiny. Before Easter, some of the philosophically inclined imagined an immortal human soul; certain Jews expected what they called the resurrection of the dead at the end of history. But no one expected this. For the Risen One was not a disembodied spirit (“…handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 23:39), and the Risen One was alive in history, such that history continued in a transformed key.

The first witnesses to the Resurrection were all Jewish and the dramatic ways in which these early Christians changed bear eloquent witness to the explosive nature of their experience of the Risen One. The Sabbath had been sacrosanct; now there was a new “Lord’s Day,” the Day of Resurrection. They once expected that the “end times” would ring down the curtain on history and the Kingdom of God would begin; now, they understood what Jesus had meant when he taught them that “the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21) – they could live Kingdom life, life in union with God, here and now, through communion with the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.

And their understanding of their responsibilities changed. What they had experienced demanded to be proclaimed and shared, as they grasped the full implications of Jesus’s injunction, “Freely you have received, freely you must give” (Matthew 10:8). They must offer friendship with the Risen One “to all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The Easter explosion created a communion of disciples in mission. We are their heirs. We can bring light to a darkened world if we believe with the intensity they did.


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About George Weigel 330 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

7 Comments

  1. You lost me (and more) at the imagined “severe case of COVID-19 and medicine can do no more for him”

    Really to be thoroughly consistent with modern medicine it would have been the merciful assisted death that was the final cause of death and he only died with covid(with it) though certainly it would have need recorded as a covid death.

  2. But there’s no current experience of Jesus risen from the dead comparable to what the Gospels relate. People are leaving Christian churches because there’s no experience of Christ. Parishes are mostly just social clubs with some Jesus sauce on top, where liturgy and catechesis are anemic. When people say they have a personal experience and relationship with Christ, I have no idea what they are talking about, and I suspect the vast majority of Catholics agree with me. For the first disciples, faith was in an experienced event and in a person they knew; for me faith is an abstraction that seems less and less tenable as the world and church deteriorate. I don’t know Jesus; I know of him. It gets harder to persevere in faith without a supporting experience, especially as the institutional Church is revealed to be corrupt and wicked.

    • And I have to modify your quote Donna. There are and will remain good, holy, committed priests and bishops. Furthermore, Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist. As well as his Holy Spirit for those who invoke him in prayer. Ask him to help you realize this, and that he will never abandon us despite the seeming prevailing wickedness within his suffering Mystical Body.

    • Donna, Jesus has presented himself everyday to you. You have seen him, but your not paying attention. When you see he hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the lonely and do whatever you can for them. Christ is there! I cant explain the exhilaration when I can say “I see you Lord” during my day. My prayers also to you.

    • Donna,
      Encounter Ministries (www.encounterministries.us)helps to facilitate personal encounter with Jesus. April 9-11 they are having a young adult conference in Gaithersburg, MD (www.encounterschool.org). Their conferences are excellent. They also have videos of healing, etc.and info on their sites of other events. Youtube also has some of their videos. Their Revive documentary is excellent.

      As far as someone being raised from the dead in the name of Jesus, on Youtube (2019Unbound leaders conference testimony- Fr. Tom Cavanaugh) talks about how he commanded a dead woman to arise in the name of Jesus-and she did!
      (heartofthefather.com is an excellent resource for someone who feels “stuck” in something that they just can’t get past- Jesus sets the captives free!) Neal Lozano and Matt Lozano of Heart of the Father have videos of their talks on Youtube.

      Damian Stayne & Cor et Lumen Christi in UK have live healing and prophetic word to people all over the world on Youtube (usually on Sundays at 3pm EST). Damian has many videos on Youtube of healing of all kinds of illness, blindness, deafness, tumors , etc. in the name of Jesus during travels all over the world. (I first saw him at the Basilica in Baltimore.) He has an excellent book on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

      Dr. Mary Healy Professor of Sacred Scripture of Sacred Heart Seminary has excellent books on healing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Youtube also has some videos of hers if you search.

      Ralph Martin and Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries (www.renewalministries.net) have excellent resources. Books on what it is to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit may be helpful to you if you are seeking a personal encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be released in you as at Pentecost. They may be able to guide you to a local group in your area to pray with.

      Donna, I hope that this is helpful. We are living in a wonderful time in the Church where Jesus is reaching out to all of us and giving us wonderful resources to increase our faith. Jesus is alive! Alleluia!

  3. Donna. Your understanding of the dilemma is perfect. “It gets harder to persevere in faith without a supporting experience, especially as the institutional Church is revealed to be corrupt and wicked”. If we clergy lived and acted as Christ did, the very purpose of our ordination that supporting experience would be evident. Pray for priests [of course you will be in mine] there’s still hope .

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. What we remember on Easter - JP2 Catholic Radio
  2. After the Resurrection | Trinity House Community

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