What would it be like to be raised from the dead?
What would it be like to be raised from the dead? What kind of transformations would occur? I'm sure we've all heard accounts of near death experiences - those of persons who were dead for a period of time, but somehow managed to survive. I would think, and hope, that it would be a life-changing experience – that after such an experience life would be richer - filled with wonder, gratitude, purpose, holiness, and joy.
By my count, there are ten resurrection stories in Sacred Scripture – stories where the dead are physically raised to life. However, few of these stories, except the resurrection of our Lord, offer any details of these post-death experiences. One of the few details we have is of Lazarus and that his resurrection was such a threat to the Jewish rulers that they planned to kill him.
Psychologists tell us that death is one of our most primal fears. Though some may claim ambivalence, near-miss death experiences that race our heartbeats prove otherwise.
Even for Christians, death causes great anxiety. Though we strongly believe and have faith in life after death, death is still a moment of great apprehension. The ultimate fear, of course, is not death itself - it is death in mortal sin – it is the fear of eternal death.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience.… Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow.…”1
The first resurrection story in Sacred Scripture is found in the Book of Kings. It's a story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath. As you may recall Elijah is sent to Zarephath in the midst of a famine. On his arrival he sees a widow gathering sticks and calls out to her, '“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink … [and] a bit of bread.” The widow replied, “As the LORD, your God, lives … I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.”2 '
'“Do not be afraid,” Elijah said to her … “For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, 'The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” … She left and did as Elijah said and …was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well;3
Sometime later the boy fell sick and stopped breathing. 'Elijah called out to the Lord, 'O Lord, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child.' The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child’s body and he revived. Taking the child, Elijah … gave him to his mother.' The woman replied … “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God.'4
In this story, the conversation begins with the woman saying to Elijah, “As the Lord, your God, lives” and ends with the statement, “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God.”
Facing starvation, surviving solely through the faith of Elijah, and then witnessing the death and resurrection of her son: certainly these are life changing events. But more importantly this widow experienced a deep conversion, a spiritual resurrection. Her encounter with Elijah, her encounter with the God of Mercy, brought her soul to a new faith and deeper awareness of the compassion and loving care of God.
Of course, there are skeptics who could claim that the boy wasn't really dead - that he was in a coma or some other altered state. However, as you read through the resurrection accounts, evidence of supernatural intercession becomes more and more pronounced. Perhaps the most convincing case came following Christ's death on the Cross, when in the presence of a multitude of witnesses, many saints were raised from the grave – undoubtedly having been buried for some time.
Throughout salvation history, God has chosen to reveal His truth gradually. At His Ascension Jesus said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”5 These resurrection accounts shed little light on the effects of a resurrection experience. Evidently, the biblical authors have chosen to leave such a discussion to our own imagination and experience. However, what they do show is a vivid portrayal of the love and compassion of God, and God's power over all things, including death.
Through these resurrection stories, our faith is strengthened. We are prepared to understand Christ's passion, death, and resurrection that opened the gates of Heaven to us. And with the resurrection events that follow, we know for certain that Christ is still with us and that His power over death prevails.
Belief in the resurrection of the dead, and the Resurrection of Christ, is an essential tenant of our faith. St. Paul said, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; [and] empty, too, [is] your faith.” Like all of God's revelation, for those who believe, no explanation is necessary: for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible. The choice is ours.
In today's second reading we have another resurrection story, but it is not about a physical resurrection. The reading describes Saul's conversion. In his zeal for his ancestral traditions, Saul persecuted Christians and the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it, bringing Christians back to Jerusalem in chains for trial and imprisonment. Saul was truly resurrected, but it was an interior resurrection – a resurrection of his heart and his mind. Freed from a life of egotism, bigotry, and hatred, the one who was spiritually dead took on a new name signifying a new life. Paul was raised truly from the dead to became an Apostle, a great disciple, and a missionary of God's infinite mercy.
Like the story of The Widow of Zarephath and the story of The Widow at Nain, St. Paul's was a spiritual resurrection, a resurrection of the soul. Scripture records countless stories of such resurrections: Nicodemus, Mary Magdalen, the Roman Centurion, and the thief crucified with Jesus, just to name a few.
Evidence of physical resurrections certainly strengthen our faith, but as the spirit is more important than the body, it is the resurrections of the spirit that matter most. Certainly evidence of Jesus resurrection is critically important to our faith, but Jesus didn't die to save our bodies, He died to save our souls.
So, returning to my initial question, I ask you, 'What is it like to rise from the dead? Of all peoples, you should know. All of you have been raised from death to life – from the certain death of sin to the promise of new and eternal life. What transformations have occurred? What attitudes and behaviors have changed? Has your resurrection filled your heart and mind with wonder, gratitude, purpose, holiness, and joy? Do you rejoice in God's compassion and mercy? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? So, tell me - tell the world your story - What is it like to rise from the dead?'