The feast of the Resurrection means for us in faith that Jesus, following his true and actual death and burial, rose from the grave in his total and, consequently, physical reality, to glorified perfection and immortality. Thus a figurative resurrection is ruled out by our faith: Jesus really and truly rose from the dead.
Peter says this in Acts: "God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses that God had already chosen - by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead h (Acts 10:40-42).
The Resurrection of Jesus is the central truth of our faith in Christ and represents with his passion an essential part of the Paschal Mystery. There are two basic traditions to Jesus' Resurrection on Easter morning: the tradition of the empty tomb and the tradition of the risen Christ's various appearances.
In the Gospel of St John we read, "Mary Magdalene came to the tomb" and "saw that the stone had been moved away" (John 20:1). The tomb was empty. The Resurrection of Jesus is proclaimed to the apostles by the women who first encountered Jesus (John 20:16). Jesus then "appeared to Peter and then to the twelve. Following that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brethren at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:5-6). The Apostles would not have invented the story of the resurrection since it seemed impossible to them.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus means that the power of death, the power of Sheol - the Hebrew concept of the place of underworld darkness from which there is no return - has been conquered (Job 7:9; Ps 63:10; Dt 32:22). By the power of Jesus' rising "life is now changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven" ( Roman Missal: Preface I for the Dead).
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is stated (646): "Christ's resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he performed before Easter: Jairus' daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised were returned by Jesus' power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again.
"Christ's resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus' Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St Paul can say that Christ is "the new man of Heaven" (1 Cor 15:35-50), therefore the Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ and represents along with his cross an essential part of the Paschal Mystery."
Our belief as Christians is of course not simply in an empty tomb. Our faith is in the risen, living Lord Jesus, who really appeared to his disciples, as St Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles (10:39-43): "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day."
We firmly believe, therefore, as we declare in the Christian Creed, that just as Jesus is truly raised from the dead and lives forever, so after our earthly death we the faithful will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise us up on the last day.
In first Corinthians we read: "How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain ... But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:12-14).
Christian death has a positive meaning thanks to the Resurrection of Jesus. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, the Christian has already "died with Christ" sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ's grace, physical death completes this "dying with Christ"; and so is completed our incorporation into him in his redeeming act.
By virtue of his apparitions, Jesus the risen Lord entered into our history and gives us new life. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1013) we are told: "When the single course of our earthly life" is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives. Rather, "it is appointed for men to die once. There is no reincarnation after death. In death God calls man to himself."
Fr Dennis Byrnes is a priest of the Lismore (NSW) Diocese who resides in Port Macquarie.