Something happened that first Easter Sunday morning which had never happened before in the history of the world.
It is true that people had come back from the dead before. The gospels themselves tell us that Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus from the dead. Even in the Old Testament, the prophets Elijah and Elisha restored the lives of several young people. However, they merely regained the physical life they had before. All of them eventually would grow old and succumb to death.
The resurrection of Jesus is totally different. Jesus’ body is not simply resuscitated. His body is not simply returned to the state it was in prior to His death. Rather, He is raised to a new life with an incorruptible body unable to feel pain, suffer the effects of aging or die. It is a body charged with eternal life.
We know this because of the gospel accounts. Jesus’ resurrected body does not have the same physical limitations that our bodies have. He is able to appear wherever and whenever He wants. When the apostles lock themselves in the upper room, Jesus appears to them “despite the closed doors.” He did not need to knock or climb through a window. He simply shows up wherever He wants through the power of His will.
At the same time, we know that He is not a ghost. Though it is no longer subject to space and time, Jesus still has a physical body. Whenever Jesus appears to the apostles, He shows them the wounds in His hands and side. This tells us that the risen body of Jesus is the same body that was nailed to the cross on Good Friday. He even eats a fish. It is also clear that Jesus is not a ghost because the tomb He had been buried in was empty, as is the testimony of all the gospels.
Finally, the resurrection of Jesus differs from any other event in human history because He was raised by God Himself. No one came and woke Jesus up or used their powers to raise Him. Rather, He was raised up by the power of the Father. In John’s gospel, Jesus tells His disciples: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.”
What does all this mean? It means that Jesus is who He says He is, the Son of God. The One who healed the sick, who calmed the stormy sea, who multiplied loaves and fish and who performed countless other miracles during His earthly life is the same One who rose from the dead. Not only does He have power over nature, sin and sickness but He has power over death itself. Therefore, if we believe in Him and live as He commands, not only can we be assured of the forgiveness of our sins, as Saint Peter promises in today’s first reading, but we can be assured of everlasting life. Just as Jesus’ death on the cross earns for us power over sin so His resurrection earns for us victory over death itself.
Now, this eternal life is not a reality that we have to wait to receive in heaven. It is more than an “after life”. Rather, we have it already through baptism and faith. The new life of the resurrection is already at work in our body and souls. Saint Paul tells us this in today’s second reading: “...your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
How do we experience eternal life during our earthly life? We experience it whenever we receive the grace to forgive someone who has hurt us. When we go out of our comfort zone to feed a hungry person or visit someone in prison it is through the power of the eternal life of Christ within us. When we find the courage to witness to our faith even when we are made fun of because of it, it is a sign that the risen life of Jesus is at work in us. None of these works are possible through our own human powers. However, when God’s Spirit of new life is at work in us, all things become possible. There are no obstacles we cannot overcome and no limitations to what we can achieve.
The Resurrection of Jesus, therefore, makes us a people of hope. There is no doubt that we live in very difficult and dangerous times. Many people have given into despair because they cannot see any possible way that our world can get better. However, when we have faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, we work with untiring hope for a better world. We work with confidence because if God can bring good out of the cross, He can also bring good out of our suffering, out of sickness and out of injustice. He can even bring good out of death. We may not always see the way forward but we know that with God there is always hope.
The Resurrection of Jesus also teaches us that our ultimate destiny is not in this world. No matter how hard we work, no matter how well we plan, we will never feel fulfilled in this life. No matter how much we have there will still be an emptiness within us that can only be filled by God. Our home is in heaven. Like Jesus, at the final judgment, our bodies will also be raised from the dead and united with our souls. It will be a body unable to suffer or to die. This is the hope that is held out to us by our Risen Lord.
And so, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead makes all the difference in the world. Without it, Jesus would just be another rabble-rouser whom the Romans put to death. Now, because of it, we can proclaim with the apostles that He is Lord and Messiah, our King and Savior. Because of it, we know that we too will share His victory over death if we join His struggle against sin. Hope and joy fills our hearts because Jesus is truly risen.