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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Risen Lord's Victory over Death and Sin

In His Divine Person, the New Adam united Himself to the destruction men suffer in death, to vanquish and transform what would most threaten human dignity into a gateway of eternal glory. Sin is our hostility to Life Himself, and death in sin is the destruction of human life. Sin is the source of our guilt and wraps our existence in shame so that death's shadow haunts our lives. Yet, into this shadow, the Good Shepherd went in search of us, and that we might dwell in His house forever, the Risen Lord bought us with His own blood. The loss of integrity and alienation that sin causes finds its full bodily expression when a cold corpse is lowered into its grave and so the Word most fully expressed the Father's love when His body was sealed in the tomb. We are not comfortable with the world, or our neighbors, or ourselves because we have defied our Maker, and the lifeless body of the visible image of the invisible God proclaims just how uncomfortable the Almighty is with our defiance. We feel thwarted before death because, in His humility, the Source of Life thwarts the proud. The Creator does so not as an angry God who seeks vengeance, but rather as a father whose heart is broken over the plight of his son, as a bridegroom who is distraught that his beloved is in grave danger. The power of sin and the depths of its mystery is great. Greater still is the Divine Mercy that has suffered and overthrown it for our sake. The Risen Lord has the power to forgive sin because He wants us to have the antidote for death. Death in sin not only alienates the human body from its soul, but the soul from its God. This does not happen all at once—but unfolds despite every effort to avoid or prevent it. Death's dehumanizing power rips the principle of human life away from its body until life-less body and body-less life are incapable of meaningful connection with others, and the soul has nothing to pull it back into relation with the Lord. Even for a person of great faith, hope is tested and love itself is questioned as the unfolding of death's mystery is suffered. Trapped in sterile alienation and unfulfilled desires, death subjects all that is good, noble and true about our humanity to futility. Death becomes a great spiritual contest, one in which the very meaning of our lives and our loves are on the line. The Word of the Father chose to suffer this for us - not to prevent it or provide an escape from it, but to transform it into a mystery that leads to the perfection of faith, the invincibility of hope, and the final triumph of love. The Father did not wish humanity to perish even as it suffered death. Desiring that the Father's dream for humanity might be realized, after the Word became flesh for our sake even to the point of embracing the annihilation to which our human existence was subject. He did not abandon His dead humanity. He was personally present to both his dead body and his soul in death, suffering in them all that death means and yet, because suffering death, also infusing it with His saving presence so that death no longer has the last word about humanity. Instead, the love of the Father revealed by His Son is become the deepest truth of human existence, deeper than any misery or absence of life. His Divine Person united His lifeless body and his departed soul even as death corrupted the bonds by which one animates the other and the other expresses the one. Cut off from all human connection and bereft the love of the Father for which his humanity lived, the Word with eternal meaning plunged into the futility that threatens the meaning of our lives. This means that the Son of the Father held fast to his lifeless body so that even when wrapped in burial cloths deep in the darkness of a sealed tomb, His earthly tent was never separated from His Divine Nature. This means that the Word clung to his human soul even as it plunged in the depths of human misery, so that though suffering places so alienated from the love of God no unaided human power can escape, his human spirit was never cut-off from His Divine Life. Though completely hidden from the living and seeming not to be accomplishing anything that can be measured—the life of God was fashioning a great new hope for humanity. In these colliding polarities, His Divine Person bore such sanctifying paradox to transform what was once our curse into humanity's greatest moment, an offering rendered acceptable because infused by His sacrifice. Indeed, no matter how sealed away His Body in death and no matter how deep into the sleep of death His soul, the Savior would not abandon His Body or His Soul because of the immensity of His love for each one of us—until he opened for each of us the way home, no matter how lost we find ourselves. Is it any wonder that when we come to Him with our sin, He is always ready to forgive it? He has gone deeper into our misery than our own sin can know. No addictive behavior, no psychological brokenness, no self-loathing, no self-torment—nothing we can bring to Him is too unbearable for Him, for He has already bore it all. He has contended against the powers that would try to hold us down, and none of them could separate us from His love.

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