As they descend the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples that they may not speak of the Transfiguration until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead (Mk 9:9). Instead of asking clarifying questions, the disciples fall back to argue among themselves what “rising from the dead” must mean. That says a little bit about the stubbornness of human nature as well as, in the world the disciples had experienced, death was absolutely the end.
Jesus’ mission was to be accomplished by His death and Resurrection. Sin and death were to be vanquished. Jesus was to be the first-fruits of those who had fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20).
Through His Resurrection, Jesus was going to always be with each of us guiding our journey home to God the Father.
Exploring the mystery of that gift of Salvation would be impossible for those who remained locked in a world with no conception of life after death. Jesus chose to answer the disciples’ (unvoiced) questions with experiences that allowed them to discern their own answer.
Jesus showed the disciples He had the power to bring the dead to new life. In the city of Nain, Jesus responds with compassion for the pain and grief of a widowed mother. Jesus touches the coffin calling the young man to arise (Lk 11-17). Another instance was the daughter of the synagogue official Jairus. Jesus took her by the hand and called for her to arise (Mk 5:21-43). With these two examples, the disciples saw Jesus respond to the entreaties of a mother and a father. Jesus raised to new life a son and a daughter.
For me, it was the death of a friend which first led me to delve into the mystery of new life. After Jesus’ Resurrection, St. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9: 36- 42). St. Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20: 7-12).
I had asked a priest why nowadays God didn’t seem so ready to allow people to come back from the dead. Father replied there was no need for it. What? Father reminded me that Jesus had opened the gates to everlasting life. Did I really wish to call someone back? That day my pain was great; my answer was yes. That day also challenged me to reflect and act upon my understanding of Heaven. I asked God to help me understand and accept the better answer was no.
That being called to live the new understanding was also there for Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus walked out of the tomb four days after his death (Jn 11:1-44). Both Martha and Mary wistfully tell Jesus that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus been there. Jesus gently replies that if they believe they will see the glory of God. The tombstone is rolled back. Lazarus stumbles out wrapped in the burial cloths. Jesus, the disciples, the sisters, and Lazarus walk away from the empty tomb and the now unnecessary, burial cloths.
Even before Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, the striking visuals of the rolled up burial cloths and the empty tomb remind Jesus’ followers of what they had left behind in Lazarus’ empty tomb. Let us not underestimate that power of understanding in guiding and calling forth courageous undertakings. The Apostles and the women who followed Jesus began to share with the world the gift of salvation revealed by the image of Jesus’ empty tomb.
Each day we live, we can deepen our joy at experiencing Jesus’ gift of Salvation by choosing to grow in relationship with God. Those painful things that literally or figuratively knock us down and out on that cold, dusty road are simply invitations to reach out and more deeply explore our journey with Jesus.
One day I was visiting a Church. The hoped-for event had been rescheduled. I had recently picked myself up off one of those dusty roads and was feeling very down. An elderly gentleman finished his Rosary. He asked if I thought God had a sense of humor. I momentarily put my personal concerns aside. He shared with me that many years ago he had set a record for being in a coma. He felt he owed the miracle of recovery to all the prayers others had offered for him. Yet, he wondered why God had granted the miracle. I smiled and said he might never get the “one reason.” God’s answer to that question might be different from anything we might be able to imagine. I went to leave. He told me he was supposed to shake my hand. A generation thing? He said, ”I have a feeling one day in Heaven we will shake hands just like this.”
Apparently, one reason God had awoken him from the coma was so that 50 plus years later, in a hushed and darkened Church, he could bring hope and God’s love to a troubled soul.
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.