Not the end of the world

9 April, 2023 Easter Sunday, Year A

Popular fiction is replete with doomsday stories depicting seers and prophets predicting the end of the world. In such stories, the end comes courtesy of an alien invasion, an ecological disaster, a meteorite collision, or a zombie apocalypse.


The gospel story today is similarly apocalyptic in its outlook, although there are no aliens or zombies at the empty tomb. And there is no doomsaying involved.


The Matthean version of Jesus’ resurrection is replete with all the trappings of a world-ending apocalypse – earthquakes, radiant angels descending from heaven, and temple police paralysed with fear. Similar portents attended the death of Jesus in Matthew, with thunder, lightning and earth-shaking storms, the dead rising from their tombs and Roman centurions quaking in awe.


The events of Easter Sunday (as it has come to be known) are at the heart of the Gospel story, and rightly so. Up until his resurrection, Jesus may have appeared to most as a simple sage or street preacher, at best, a prophet. And like many such prophets before him, he met his death at the hands of those whom he criticised. Tragic! But far from uncommon in Jesus’ world. On that first Easter Sunday morning, however, his emergence from the empty tomb was seen as something earth-shatteringly new.


Such was the extraordinary nature of the encounter with Jesus redivivus, that his disciples could only describe their experience  in terms that had previously been associated with end-of-world scenarios. Resurrection is not simply resuscitation. Those saints who rose from their tombs at Jesus’ death were merely resuscitated – much like Lazarus in John’s Gospel.


The risen Jesus was an entirely new order of being. Not resuscitated or reborn, but re-created as part of a now-and-future reality when God would remake all creation.


Paul, writing decades before Matthew’s Gospel, indicates that these initial witnesses saw Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruit of the anticipated end-time event of the general resurrection of the dead (1 Co 6:14; 15:12-23; 1 Th 4:13-18; Rm 8:11; cf. Lk 14:14) – a portent of the future reign of God upon the earth. Moreover, as Paul stresses in today’s second reading, they came to believe that through baptism they could share in Christ’s new life (Col 3:3-4).


Paul wrote letters; Matthew wrote stories. Two very different genres of literature; but both authors are wont to stress the apocalyptic nature of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is not an end, it is a promise and a sign that we too will be raised to new life in a new creation.


We do not know how the end will come, despite the aliens, zombies and meteorites conjured up in the popular imagination. But we do know that having died with Christ, we will also be raised when he comes in his glory (Col 3:4). This is the central message of the “good news” – death is not the end; nor is the end of the world as we know it the final chapter in the human story.


Ian J Elmer

© Majellan Media 2023 

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