This Joyful Eastertide

Easter is the only reason to be optimistic. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then no man can be resurrected. In that case, death will certainly and totally consume all the things we care about. Life might go well for a time, to be sure. But it will all end in sorrow; and that end, that sorrow and pain, will be permanent, and incorrigible, and total. It will take all of us, and all our works. None of it will come to anything. All will be lost.

If on the other hand the Resurrection did happen, then we have really nothing to be worried about, in the end. If one man can be resurrected, so might any man. Thus no matter what ills befall us in this life, and no matter how soon we might be called upon to die, we can look forward with confidence to everlasting life in Heaven, in every way like our present life, except without the defects due to sin – namely, death, pain, illness, poverty, sorrow, loss, and so forth – for, nor any sin to begin with, no jot of any sort of bad behavior, either inflicted or suffered: no want of patience, humility, prudence, courage, diligence, or any other of the virtues. So, in the resurrection, we get to be everything good we might ever have wanted to be. We can all be Icarus, without the messy bit at the end. All good!

This, of course, provided we act so as to take the opportunity of that Heavenly life; if we don’t, why then we don’t; and, in that case, we don’t get it, but rather something altogether different, that is not nearly so nice. Thus the only thing we really need to be worried about, if the Resurrection did indeed happen, is making damn sure we do totally take the opportunity it has opened to us.

Then if the Resurrection happened, so that any of us can enjoy it if we want to, it much behooves us to worry about whether the people we love will take the opportunity of Heaven, so that they can enjoy it, too. So we need to worry about raising kids properly, the corporal works of mercy, living a holy life as the example and best argument of the reason of faith, providing correct and fascinating catechesis, cogent apologetic and compelling, compassionate evangelization, speaking the Truth (but I repeat myself), and so forth. Indeed, all that social stuff – all that charity – matters enormously more than it could possibly have done, if death awaited everything, no matter what we did. Without the Resurrection, our love for each other would be rather silly, after all. Without the Resurrection, society would be ultimately stupid, and pointless. There would be no reason for it. Without the Resurrection, it would make no sense to care about our kids, or for our relatives and friends; for, they would be all of them as good as dead already.

If there were no reason for society, then under the Principle of Sufficient Reason it is hard to see how there could be such a thing, anywhere.

But, everywhere we look, we find society. We care about our kids, our families and friends – aye, and to some extent, even the stranger. The right minded among us – which, at least in this respect, means essentially all of us – sacrifice for them again and again, and give of our substance for their benefit. And we count ourselves happy to do so.

But it goes deeper. That we are so formed that we cannot but care for our children, that we cannot but be social, tells us that our world, to and by which we are after all formed, is itself somehow social – this, in just the way that our consciousness is (one sort of) the consciousness of the cosmos. As the world is set up to be conscious of itself, so is it set up to be social.

Society crops up all over the place, not just among the animals. We may reasonably treat all sorts of things as social in nature: nucleons, atoms, molecules, virii, eukaryotes, and so forth, along with the sorts of phenomena we more usually dignify with that title – as trees, animals, sponges, jellyfish, nations, corporations, families, ecologies, ant hills, reefs, forests, schools, packs, herds, flocks, and the like (I would add watersheds and river systems, but that’s just me and my history as a boatman); and of course solar systems, planets, stars, galaxies, etc. The order of the world seems to like society, and inclined to make it happen. Not a few thinkers have understood the world itself as a gigantic organism, a society of interdependent disparate entities; such that their net of interdependence constitutes the causal order.

Being so prevalent, society must be important, and valuable – not just to us, or to other social creatures, but objectively; which is to say, eternally. It looks as though the created order is ordained ab initio toward, and indeed perhaps effected by means of, social order; so that it consists in just that. The world seems ordered by its essential nature to the recurrent production of society, at all levels.

Recall then that the Great Chain of Being extends upward from the societies of our cosmos to those expressed in the choirs of angels, each of which subsists at one level of a hierarchy whose denizens are subsumed in turn into societies at yet higher levels.

But here’s the thing: if resurrection is not out there as an option, society simply can’t make sense in our world; is at bottom inexplicable, and so impossible to understand. For, if there is no resurrection, then in the final analysis it cannot make sense to give anything of value to another. We find however that such donation is the basis of all worldly causation; we have noticed and formalized it in the conservation laws.

Society per se – of any sort, including the angelic – can be intelligible – can, i.e., be orderly, and thus real – only if everlasting life is out there as an option. And everlasting life can be an option for man only if the Resurrection happens.

It is out there as an option, thanks be to God. So society does make sense; so we find it everywhere expressed in our experience. All normal people care more for their children than for their own survival. People are nice to each other when they feel they can be. Society is important to everyone, and indeed to everything that orderly and fitly partakes the causal dance of this world. Every sort of thing whatever tries to be a good citizen (only thus could there be criminals particular within any sort, as sports thereof).

All sorts of religions suppose there is for us some sort of an afterlife, more or less good. Even nirvana is of, and enjoyed by, some definite thing. But no sort of such an afterlife might be possible to us, qua men, other than via our resurrection *as men.* Any other sort of afterlife would be that of some altogether different sort of being than we now are, and so to us utterly alien, strange, and revolting; or, at least, not worth wanting: if not horrible, then at least utterly indifferent, stupid, worthless. This is so even of pure nirvana: it can seem good, worthy, and desirable to any one of us only *as men.* If a religion proposes an afterlife that seems to us now *in any way nice,* it must be proposing an afterlife of beings *that are such as we now are* – that, in short, simply *are such as we.* So, the afterlife of such religions as do not comprehend the Resurrection – say, that of Islam – presuppose resurrection, without ever explicitly noticing it, or knowing that they do so. So doing, they implicitly presuppose the Resurrection.

If a religion supposes there is a life *for us* other than this one, it implicitly presupposes the Resurrection.

It looks as though everything in this world, whether human or not, being socially ordered, implies resurrection.

We should hardly then feel surprised that it has actually happened.

Such is the proposal of Easter. Easter proclaims that the Resurrection happened. As it happened for one man, so it can happen for all men.

Resurrection is an option. You can take it, right now. You can take it, this very minute; or, at any minute yet left to you, so long as you live.

Please take it. Please, my friends: take it, with me. It would be cool if we could all meet there in Heaven, together, whenever we wanted to, and forever.

Take your resurrection. To do so, you must join in the general resurrection, that is begun for us and for our whole world in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To do that, you must join yourself to his Resurrected Body; that’s how the taking is actually accomplished. That will be good, but – like all the best things in life – it will not be easy. It will involve all sorts of difficult sacrifices; it will involve askesis, fasting, prayer, alms giving, liturgical worship, self surrender. It will, that is to say, involve an early anticipation of all that will be required of you at death’s door. As your death to the body of death, it will demand everything of you, without stint. It will consist, then, in the beginning of your death; and it will reach culmination only with the fulfillment of that death.

Resurrection is open to you. That’s why we Christians say, “Happy Easter.” What now will you do? Will you be Happy, with us? Will you look forward, optimistically, to and then through suffering and death?

Or, will you instead despair, give up, surrender, and simply, forever, die?

Live, man! Live! Come with us, onward, to joy!

Happy Easter.

This joyful Eastertide, away with sin and sorrow.
My Love, the Crucified, hath sprung to life this morrow.
Had Christ, that once was slain, ne’er burst his three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain: but now hath Christ arisen.

My flesh in hope shall rest, and for a season slumber:
Till trump from east to west shall wake the dead in number.
Had Christ, that once was slain, ne’er burst his three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain: but now hath Christ arisen.

Death’s flood hath lost his chill, since Jesus crossed the river:
Lover of souls, from ill my passing soul deliver.
Had Christ, that once was slain, ne’er burst his three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain: but now hath Christ arisen.

George Ratcliffe Woodward

 

17 thoughts on “This Joyful Eastertide

      • If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then no man can be resurrected. In that case, death will certainly and totally consume all the things we care about. Life might go well for a time, to be sure. But it will all end in sorrow; and that end, that sorrow and pain, will be permanent, and incorrigible, and total. It will take all of us, and all our works. None of it will come to anything. All will be lost”

      • If there is no collection of thoughts or em experiences because there is no resurrection, what else might there be? How would anyone know?

      • I didn’t write that there is no collection of thoughts or experiences if there is no resurrection. Look, it’s very simple: if there is no resurrection, then death is the end for everything. That’s still a long, long way from nothing. It is in fact an *infinite* way from nothing.

      • Look, it’s very simple: if there is no resurrection, then death is the end for everything.”. How could it possibly matter if “something” was infinite if this is true? It seems like you’ve actually said nothing

      • It is true that if death is the end for everything, then nothing matters in the end. In that case, it does indeed not matter a whit, mutatis mutandis, that the difference between nothing and life as we live it is infinite. Nevertheless in that case, and in every other possible case, it is eternally *true* that the difference between nothing and life as we live it is infinite. That you care whether or not it makes sense to state that truth indicates that the truth of it matters to you – enough to motivate you to write about it here. If death were the end for everything, there could be no sufficient reason for any such thing to matter to you, or to anyone.

        If it seems to you that I have said nothing, then you have not read carefully enough; or you misunderstand what you have read.

  1. Pingback: This Joyful Eastertide | Reaction Times

  2. This year I am thinking of Christ’s death and resurrection as an act of perfect faith. You will remember the misplaced faith of Charlie Brown in the perfidious Lucy. She repeatedly promised that this time she would not snatch the football away at the last minute, and every time lets poor Charlie down. The Father promised the Son that he would raise him from the dead, and although the Son was as trusting as Charlie Brown, the Father was the exact opposite of perfidious Lucy.

  3. Thank you Kristor. This gave me a lift in a week in which I, a veterinarian by profession, had to personally put to sleep our beloved family border collie of fourteen years (I didn’t entrust to a colleague, because I wished to ensure there was no fear).

    That’s a lovely poem at the end. True, plain, no nonsense and simple rhymes.

  4. I’ve decided that trying to pick fights here is stupid. Although I have little regard for the particulars of your faith, I have respect for the sacred in general, because that is part of being a human being. People may hold different things sacred, but their attachment to their sacrality is no less than and no different in kind from my own. Trying to argue them out of it is crass and stupid, not to mention rude.

    In other words, I have no wish to criticize or intrude on or interfere with your celebration of this particularly sacred day in the calendar. If this feels like an intrusion, please feel free to ignore or delete it.

    That said, I’ve never quite understood the centrality of the Resurrection to the Christian faith, it doesn’t make sense to me even on its own terms. That is, if God created the whole universe out of nothingness, human beings very much included, then resurrecting one after they died is a relatively unimpressive act. In the normal course of things, God giveth life, god taketh it away, and so if he re-gifts it this one time – big deal! Even if it is supposed to stand in for the resurrection of everything that dies, I don’t quite see why its such a central focus.

    For, if there is no resurrection, then in the final analysis it cannot make sense to give anything of value to another…Society per se…can be intelligible – can, i.e., be orderly, and thus real – only if everlasting life is out there as an option. And everlasting life can be an option for man only if the Resurrection happens.

    I don’t follow your logic but then I see little sense in worrying over death and finitude. I mean, sure, I’m going to hang onto my own life as long as I can, but it’s not going to be forever, that’s just a childish thing to want.

    It also strikes me as ignoble, a bad way to live. The way to live a good life is to dedicate it to something larger than oneself, then one can die having been part of something that transcends your brief lifetime. You have to accept the fundamentally temporal and finite nature of individual life, or you’ll miss out on what you actually have.

    But if the prospect of eternity is the only thing that can make life and death bearable, well, far be it from me to tell you not to desire it.

    Even nirvana is of, and enjoyed by, some definite thing

    Argh no. Nirvana is the cessation of the cycle of birth and death. Things and selves are conditioned, nirvana is the end of the conditioned. It is definitely *not* is a resurrection (my knowledge of Buddhism is rudimentary but I’m confident of that much).

    • Now that is a wonderfully constructive comment, a.morphous. You ask some excellent questions, and pose some interesting challenges. I thank you.

      … if God created the whole universe out of nothingness, human beings very much included, then resurrecting one after [he] died is a relatively unimpressive act.

      Yes! This is one of the things I was talking about in my recent post on the Leap of Faith. Once one understands what we must properly mean by “God,” miracles don’t seem like a much bigger deal than, say, worms. It then almost seems as though it would be odd if there *weren’t* such things as miracles. On the only proper definition of “God,” God *can* perform miracles; so, why wouldn’t he?

      He would.

      The Resurrection is the keystone of Christianity because man could never have done it himself. So God did it for us, as a man. As a result, now we can do it along with him, by participating his life – and his death – and, so, his rising again. And that means that every man is capable of resurrection in Heaven; a future that, had there been no Resurrection, would have been impossible to any man.

      And the reason that resurrection to everlasting life in Heaven is so important is, not just that it will be loads of fun for the saint himself – although it will – as that it will be infinitely more beautiful than the alternative – and God intends creaturely beauty. Our resurrection to everlasting life with him is important to us not just because we’ll like it – although we will – but because God intends it; meaning that it is objectively good; for, on the proper definition of “God,” God can’t intend other than the good. To seek resurrection to everlasting life then is for a man to seek the highest good of which he is capable by nature. That is the noblest sort of life.

      There’s a ton of theological and metaphysical prolegomena implicit in those last two paragraphs. I can explain it if you like, but it would take many pages.

      So, it’s not so much that Christians worry about death – of all people, they worry about it the least, and in fact rather look forward to it with glad anticipation – nor is it that they are uncomfortable with the finitude of life – on the contrary. It is rather that Christians *don’t* worry about death so much as other sorts of men. So they live less anxiously, and more happily.

      Not a few psychological surveys have borne that out.

      It is certainly true that the way to live a good life is to commit it to something transcendent. The way then to live the best possible, the noblest life is to commit it to something that transcends all other things, infinitely. Implicit in that commitment is the admission that one’s own contribution to that ultimate transcendent cannot count for much, in the grand scheme of things. This realization is the font of Christian humility. It consists first in radical acceptance of one’s own finite and temporal nature, as against the infinite beauty and power of the Eternal One.

      NB: we will be finite and temporal even when resurrected to everlasting life. Man is *essentially* temporal, unlike angels. He cannot be fully man other than as enmeshed in a causal system, in which time passes and space is traversed.

      It isn’t that the prospect of everlasting life makes mortal life and its end bearable for Christians, but that it makes mortal life and its death intelligible.

      I didn’t suggest that nirvana is a resurrection. I didn’t mean to, anyway. I meant to suggest only that it must be an experience – which is to say, a life – that it is both attainable by man qua man, and good for man qua man to attain, or men would not be the least bit interested in attaining it, nor could they be ontologically capable of attaining it. Thus if it is true that nirvana is beyond condition simpliciter, then the human mind, being incorrigibly conditioned – as human, mental, and so forth – is strictly and totally incapable of it. Buddhists report that the human mind is, indeed, capable of nirvana. Ergo, etc.

      This is not to suggest that nirvana is attainable only via resurrection. But if it is enjoyable *by us* – i.e., *by men* – post mortem (as would seem to be the case of a state of human mind that is unconditioned by life or death) then that enjoyment must supervene resurrection to *human* life.

  5. “That said, I’ve never quite understood the centrality of the Resurrection to the Christian faith… God created the whole universe out of nothingness…”

    The Resurrection, like the Creation, is an existential act, and must be understood in light of the Incarnation. God became Man and overcame death and annihilation so that Man can become God by being united to His uncreated Energies.

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