Frequently through the day people are capable of shifting from one level of awareness to another: dreaming, waking, daydreaming, trance, meditation and so on. All of these states have been explored through cognitive neuroscience. There are many similar altered states of awareness reported in the Bible – dreams, seers, visions – no different from human experience recounted in many cultures over centuries.
Losing someone to death seems so final
Can you remember the gut-wrenching feelings when you lost a loved one in a broken relationship or to death? The sheer, palpable pain; anger; sense of loss; memories that can twist the dagger even deeper; the love you felt for them; things unsaid … losing someone to death seems so final. It is not surprising that we want to believe the soul or spirit of the person lives on after death. We often experience their presence in some way: we ‘hear’ them talk to us; they might even warn or advise us of something; we ‘see’ them; or we dream of them in such a real way it shocks us. Some societies believe that recently deceased people are intermediaries between us and God. They are a link between this world and the world to come.
The gospel stories recount many such appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples: to Mary Magdalene; to the disciples on the road to Emmaus; to the fishermen at the Sea of Galilee. So what really happened at that first Easter? We don’t have much trouble accepting Jesus’ death on the cross. Is Jesus’ body dead and decomposed like that of any other person? Or are we to believe something special happened? And if so, what does it mean for us?
Jesus’ resurrection marks the start of a new way of being
The Easter message is that Jesus is alive! To live is to possess cognitive, active, and interactive qualities. Christian teaching is that Jesus, through God’s action, in the Trinitarian love of the Father for the Son in the Holy Spirit, transcended death. We don’t understand it. Yet we believe in faith that Jesus continues his existence despite death, showing us that finite beings are immersed in the immortality of God. We are en-souled beings.
Jesus shattered the regular order of things whereby birth and death are the normal features of life on this earth. His resurrection marks the start of a new way of being. Easter is a watershed in human history. Creation is renewed, the Kingdom is here now: not only for us, but for all of humanity, and for all of creation, animals and birds, the planet. But, surely the evidence points otherwise. Wars continue, hatred remains, and violence is unabated. We are still unremittingly cruel to each other and to creation.
Love is compassionate, ethical and far reaching
The truth is that God’s transforming work depends on our participation, our conversion. Not necessarily to a belief system, but experientially. It is an invitation to live kindly, gently, thoughtfully; in fact, to model ourselves on Jesus himself. To be bigger than we usually are with our petty squabbles, ego centered wills, narrow mindedness, and to learn to live with a higher level of consciousness, to be our best selves, like when we are in love. But this sort of love is for everyone, not just a particular person. It is compassionate, ethical and far reaching. It is the sort of love Jesus showed towards us that first Easter.
1 Psychiatric research has documented that survivors of a departed beloved continue to experience that person for many years but most commonly within the first ten years after a loss.” John J Pilch, “Consciousness, Science and the Resurrection Appearances,” Bible Today, 41(4) July / August, 2003, p.257.
2For the following thoughts I am indebted to an article by Thomas Schartl “Metaphysical aspects of the concept of resurrection,” Concilium, 2006(5), pp.65-77.
3Psychiatric research has documented that survivors of a departed beloved continue to experience that person for many years but most commonly within the first ten years after a loss.” John J Pilch, “Consciousness, Science and the Resurrection Appearances,” Bible Today, 41(4) July / August, 2003, p.257.
4 For the following thoughts I am indebted to an article by Thomas Schartl “Metaphysical aspects of the concept of resurrection,” Concilium, 2006(5), pp.65-77.