Branching Out Blog

The gift of resurrection is not only for the future

Posted by Bill Ayres on Apr 15, 2020 7:00:18 AM

“In the end, there are only two choices: resurrection or inexorable nothingness.” This is how the great German scriptural theologian Gerhard Lohfink begins his book Is This All There Is? On Resurrection and Eternal Life.
 
Is there anyone who has not asked, “What will happen to me when I die? Where will I go? Will I simply cease to exist?” Lohfink states what may not seem to us as obvious, but is it? If nothingness is the answer, then “countless victims of war, torture, and rape, will never experience life, justice, and love and will eventually be forever forgotten.” All the hatred and mass killings as well as individual acts of horror will reign in history without any response, only the darkness of an eternal abyss.
 
The other choice is resurrection, our resurrection, not just sometime in the future but beginning now. It has already started in Christ, through his resurrection. It is obviously not a natural event but rather a pure gift from God, an act of his creative love, a new creation in Jesus Christ. Resurrection is not an afterthought by God but what was intended from the beginning of creation. It is an everlasting process that exploded forth from the resurrection of Jesus. We are all part of that process, and Lohfink sees it as happening now in our lives, slowly revealing itself through generations. It is far from complete, but it is there every day for us through the presence of the Spirit within us. When Jesus lived on earth, he healed many people, not only of their physical sickness but also of their social isolation and marginalization as outcasts. Now, he can heal us of the emotional and social distress that comes from the anxiety and depression that may impact our lives at any time, and particularly during this pandemic.
 
There were times during Jesus’ public ministry when he seemed unable to heal, as in his hometown of Nazareth, because there was a lack of faith and willingness to repent. Healing has always been a gift to us from Jesus, but to work it must be accepted, not doubted. He never coerces us. Lohfink says that Jesus “had to suffer death powerlessly, helplessly, and to its darkest depth.” In death, every Christian, and, indeed, every human being, will at first, like Jesus, be thrown into an ultimate powerlessness. And at the very same time find “ultimate closeness to Jesus.” Imagine that! In our death we find “ultimate closeness with Jesus.” That puts a different and powerful light on our death. Yes, there is a darkness, and Jesus experienced that as well, but we are not alone. We die with Jesus, as we live with Jesus.
 
All of this starts with the resurrection of Jesus and continues with our own death and resurrection when we will encounter God forever. Lohfink writes, “Death is encounter with the living, holy God and none other.” Saint Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians that we will see God “face to face.” People have always thought of this as a time of judgement by God, and that is indeed a scary thought, but Lohfink calls it “a judgement that clarifies, purifies and heals everything in us.” Even a very good person who has chosen God and led a life of love, honesty, justice, truth, and mercy will have faults and weaknesses such as pride and a need for affirmation and honor. There is darkness in us all that needs to be healed in our final encounter with God “in the momentary transition between death and perfection,” as Lohfink describes it. It is not something we achieve but rather a gift, pure grace from God.
 
What happens in death to our whole lives and our relationships? Will all be gone forever? Lohfink says no: “Nothing is lost, not the tiniest memory. Everything that we have experienced in this life, painfully and joyfully, will become the material of eternal life with God- but worked through, purified, transformed.” Nor is anyone’s resurrection simply an individual act. It “cannot be separated from the resurrection of all the dead,” Lohfink writes. More than that, “the whole creation will be gathered together and receive its perfection in Christ.”
 
So often, when loved ones die, we pray that they may “rest in peace.” Suppose eternal rest is also accompanied by eternal life, an “unending dynamism” in the presence of God. For Lohfink, life goes on in a totally different and glorious way and, he adds, “the happiness of being together with all those one has loved only enhances the bliss of participation in the heavenly communion of saints.”
 
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.
 
Is This All There Is? By Gerhard Lohink is published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Maryland.

Bill Ayres

Written by Bill Ayres

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