Rose Again From the Dead

Man's attempt "to be like God", his striving for autonomy, through which he wishes to stand on his own feet alone, means his death, for he just cannot stand on his own. If man - and this is the real nature of sin - nevertheless refuses to recognise his own limits and tries to be completely self-sufficient, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death.

Of course man does understand that his life alone does not endure and that he must therefore strive to exist in others, so as to remain through them and in them in the land of the living. Two ways in particular have been tried. First, living on in one's children .... Secondly, by taking refuge in the idea of fame, which should make him really immortal if he lives on through all ages in the memory of others. But this second attempt of man to give himself immortality by existing-in-others fails just as badly as the first: what remains is not the self but only its echo, a mere shadow. So self-made immortality is really only a Hades a sheol: more non-being than being. The inadequacy of both ways lies partly in the fact that he who holds my being after my death cannot carry this being itself but only its echo; and even more in the fact that even the other person to whom I have, so to speak, entrusted my continuance will not last - he too will perish.

Man has no permanence in himself and consequently can only continue to exist in another, but his existence in another is only shadowy and once again not final, because this other must perish too. If this is so, then only one could give me lasting stability: he who is, who does not come into existence and pass away again but abides in the midst of transience: the God of the living, who does not hold just the shadow and echo of my being, whose ideas are not just copies of reality. I myself am his thought, which establishes me more securely, so to speak, than I am in myself; his thought is not the posthumous shadow but the original source and strength of my being. In him I can stand as more than a shadow; in him I am truly closer to myself than I should be if I just tried to stay by myself.

 

We could see this from a different viewpoint. Only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death. If it is to be more than death, then it first must be more than mere life. But if it could be this, not just in intention but in reality, then that would mean at the same time that the power of love had risen superior to the power of the merely biological and taken it into its service. To use Teilhard de Chardin's terminology, where that took place, the decisive complexity or "complexification" would have occurred; bios too would be encompassed by and incorporated in the power of love. It would cross the boundary -death - and create unity where death divides.

We had said that as man has no permanence in himself his survival could only be brought about by his living on in another. And we had said, from the point of view of this "other", that only the love which takes up the beloved in itself, into its own being, could make possible this existence in the other. These two complementary aspects are mirrored again, so it seems to me, in the two New Testament ways of describing the resurrection of the Lord: "Jesus has risen" and "God (the Father) has awoken Jesus." Both formulas meet in the fact that Jesus' total love for men, which leads him to the cross, is perfected in total stepping-over to the Father and therein becomes stronger than death, because in this it is at the same time total "being held" by him.

Love founds immortality, and immortality proceeds from love alone. This statement to which we have now worked our way also means that he who has love for all has also founded immortality for all. That is precisely the meaning of the biblical statement that his resurrection is our life. The - to us - curious reasoning of St Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians now becomes comprehensible: if he has risen, then we have too, for then love is stronger than death; if he has not risen, then we have not either, for then the situation is still that death has the last word, nothing else (1 Cor 15.16ff)

Either love is stronger than death or it is not. If it has become so in him, then it became so precisely as love for others. This also means, it is true, that our own love, left to itself, is not sufficient to overcome death; taken in itself it would have to remain an unanswered cry. It means that only his love, coinciding with God's own power of life and love, can found our immortality. Nevertheless, it still remains true that the mode of our immortality will depend on our mode of living.

It is quite clear that after his resurrection Christ did not go back to his previous earthly life, as we are told the young man of Naim and Lazarus did. He rose again to definitive life, which is no longer governed by the chemical and biological laws and therefore stands outside the possibility of death, in the eternity conferred by love. That is why the encounters with him are "appearances"; that is why he with whom people had sat at table two days earlier is not recognised by his best friends and, even when he is recognised remains alien: only where he grants vision is he seen; only when he opens men's eyes and makes their hearts open can the countenance of the eternal love that conquers death become recognisable in our mortal world, and in the new, different world, the world of him who is to come.

The resurrection narratives are something other and more than disguised liturgical scenes: they make visible the founding event on which all Christian liturgy rests. They testify to an approach which did not rise from the hearts of the disciples but came to them from outside, convinced them against their doubts and made them certain that the Lord had truly risen. He who lay in the grave is no longer there; he - really he himself - lives. He who had been transposed into the other world of God showed himself powerful enough to make it palpably clear that he himself stood opposite them again, that in him the power of love had really proved itself stronger than the power of death.

The comfortable attempt to spare oneself the belief in the mystery of God's mighty actions in this world and yet at the same time to have the satisfaction of remaining on the foundation of the Biblical message leads nowhere; it measures up neither to the honesty of reason nor the claims of faith. One cannot have both the Christian faith and "religion within the bounds of pure reason"; a choice is unavoidable. He who believes will see more and more clearly, it is true, how rational it is to have faith in the love that has conquered death.