What is Resurrection?
An Easter Reflection
Christopher O’Donnell, O.Carm.
Why are eggs associated with Easter? Why are they such a powerful symbol of resurrection? The word needs some care. It is not resuscitation, as if Jesus were simply brought back to life, like Lazarus or the widow’s son at Nam (see John 9 and Luke 7:11-15). Resurrection is transformation. The symbols of resurrection are many. So then, why eggs and Easter? An egg is totally changed. What is yellow and white liquid becomes alive with feathers and a chirp. If you look at the liquid of eggs alone, you would never tell what they would become. A liquid goo becomes a chicken – a sea gull, crow or magpie. Another Easter symbol is the seed, or acorn. You can look at a seed and never imagine what colour it may turn out to have. Similarly with a caterpillar and butterfly. These are resurrection symbols because they become something else, totally unforeseen and beautiful. And yet there is continuity: the egg becomes a chicken; an acorn becomes an oak-tree; a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
There are also human resurrection symbols: persons recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism become what they have despaired of happening. They are the same persons, but now transformed; they have new life, new hopes, and new possibilities. Another resurrection symbol might be a teenager becoming an adult: he or she is the same, but different with the new beauties of maturity.
The resurrection is an invitation to look around to see transformation, to see what is evil being changed, what is immature becoming adult; what appears inert like an egg or seed sprouting life.
But for the Christian the resurrection has a still richer meaning. St. Paul, clearly repeating a catechetical formula that he had learned, says to the Corinthians:
I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures (1Corinthians 15:3-4).
We can tease out this text by looking at accounts of the resurrection. They are quite subtle. The first thing we can see is that Jesus “was raised on the third day.” Who raised him? The Father by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 1:3-4; 8:11). When we look at the resurrection appearances we notice that Jesus is not at first recognised by those who loved him and who were his close associates or disciples. The exception seems to be the Beloved Disciple who had special insight (see John 20:8; 21:7). The others come to faith; indeed faith was necessary to identify Jesus. The Risen Jesus is then the same but different. This can be put in another way by saying that Jesus is not resuscitated, but is resurrected.
Christ is risen, and has promised to take us with him. This life is not the end; we too will be transformed in endless life and beauty. Human life is good, but it will end. The resurrection gives hope and meaning to our existence here. In our weakness we will after death be raised in glory. Again there is continuity: it is I (not just my body) that I hope will be raised. As Paul writes:
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body (1Corinthians 15:42-44).