The resurrection of Christ defeats the throes of death. By the power of the risen Christ, our feet are set on the path of life, casting out fear of death as humankind’s greatest enemy is put to death.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
13 April 2020
Christ is risen. Truly he is risen!
It’s Monday in the octave of Easter. Our first reading in the holy sacrifice of the Mass today is from Acts (2:14, 22-33). In the early Church, one of the first tasks Peter and the other apostles faced was the need to preach Christ crucified and resurrected. Everything the apostles were trying to do to further the mission of Christ hinged on the resurrection, as St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:17-19).
In our first reading, we hear Peter preach about the fact that Jesus the Nazorean was sent from God. As we know, Jesus is true God and true man, sent into the world to redeem humankind and open the way to salvation. Peter makes note of the fact that some of the Jews used lawless men to crucify Jesus.
“But God raised him up,” says Peter, “releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).
Christ could not be held bound by the throes of death because he is perfectly God and perfectly man. He is stronger than death. Although Christ truly experienced death in his human nature united to his divine Person, and thus experienced death as true God and true man, his divinity is not subject to death. In terms of what Christ did for us by his saving passion, death, and resurrection, we are filled with joy knowing that Christ has defeated humankind’s greatest enemy: eternal death of the soul. The resurrected Christ truly has won new life for us. That’s the great Easter promise.
Thought About Death Lately?
Times like these often lend to people thinking about death. And that’s one of the goods God brings out of the coronavirus pandemic or anything else that reminds us of the mortal nature of our bodies. You might be asking, “How is it a good thing to be thinking about death?” Today’s secular humanists, as prevalent as they are, go to extremes to erase the fact that they and others will one day die.
People don’t like to talk about death because it makes them uncomfortable. But that’s a reaction betraying a lack of intimacy with Christ and an unwillingness to face up to reality. Death is something we must face. To be honest, I’m tired of the sloppy, wimpy attitudes of many Christians today.
Let’s face death with purpose. Thoughts of death can have the benefit of setting our lives in order. The sooner we get right with God through repentance and giving ourselves over to Christ, the better.
Of course, people naturally fear death. There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy, ordered fear of dying. That is something God himself placed in us to help us value our life, to instill in us a strong reluctance to place our life at risk by doing stupid stunts like free solo climbing or driving recklessly down a winding mountain road.
Then there are disordered fears of death. Some people excessively fear death in and of itself. That is, they fear what it means. They fear losing this life because they lack hope in the next. Clinging tightly to their possessions, they fear death because it brings about a separation from the fleeting things they hold dear. Others fear losing control. In death, we no longer have any power over anything or anyone. At death, it is your soul and God.
Others fear death because they fear God’s judgment. And that, too, can be a healthy fear to have. But we should understand that fear of judgment is often a sign that we’re not very spiritually advanced in union with God. In other words, the mature Christian should find he fears meeting God less and less, even to the point of excitedly looking forward to the day when he will cross the threshold of God’s house. As we grow in love of God, our hold on this life with its temporal desires ebbs away.
St. Teresa of Avila was once asked if she would like to die. She responded by saying, “To live or to die? Ah, to die!”
St. John gives us the solution for excessive fear of judgment. He tells us that perfect love of God casts out fear:
So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.1 Jn 4:16-18
Perfect love of God casts out fear of judgment because it is in this love, this state, that we experience God as a loving Father. When we abide in love and therefore abide in God, God abides in us. We attain union with God. In this relationship, fear of judgment is cast out. Said another way, the goal is to advance in love to the point of intimacy with Christ. In doing this, the love, mercy, and compassion of the Father is unveiled before us.
How do we get to that point? Today’s gospel gives us a hint. Notice that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approached the resurrected Jesus, embraced his feet and did him homage. It is then that Jesus says, “Be not afraid.”
We too must embrace the feet of Christ and do him homage. It’s not enough to simply say, “I’m Christian.” I must belong to Christ. He must be my Lord and King in every area of my life, especially those secret areas we keep hidden. I must willingly subject my entire body, mind, and spirit to him. Obviously that means keeping the commandments. It means making Christ’s deeds and words the guiding light of my life.
It also means serving him passionately, with zeal. He is my King whom I serve to the point of death, as his knight and soldier. In union with Christ, we are filled with a manly, fighting spirit, you might say. A willingness to courageously evangelize and defend the faith. A willingness to die for what’s true.
The Resurrection of Christ Defeats Death
In our reading from Acts, Peter quotes from Psalm 16:8-11, in which David rejoices in the Lord and prays to be preserved from death:
I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.
David prays that he will not suffer corruption. You might find it interesting that, according to some Jewish traditions, corruption of a dead body occurred on the fourth day after death. It was thought that the spirit remained with the body for three days and after that departed. On the fourth day, corruption began.
In any case, David announces that his flesh will dwell in hope. He will not be abandoned to the nether world. He goes on to say, “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
In his resurrection, Christ has made known to us the paths of life. He has opened the way to life before us. And he has set our feet on his path. In Christ, the throes of death have no ultimate power over us. In Christ, we are in a sense a resurrected people this moment. In Christ, we are immortal.
The bonds of death are broken.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.