Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: Beyond the Grave

FR MICHAEL BIBLICAL IMAGERY

(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)

BEYOND THE GRAVE

In life one thing that most people fear most is death. Does man have any clue on how to conquer death? Science has really been a blessing to humankind but science is yet to solve this difficult mystery: death. The complexities involving this mystery have led some people to take the easy way; for them there is nothing beyond the grave. For them there is only “one life” and so man ought to enjoy this one and should not postpone his quest for happiness to a fanciful next life in “heaven”. This philosophy has ruled the world before and it seems there is a resurgence of it again in our time.

When I look round and observe the life styles and philosophies of some contemporary young men and women, I am saddened. Once I was invited to a parish for the sacrament of reconciliation. When I was done and was about to drive out, a young man signaled me to stop. He came with a question. “Father,” he asked, “Does anything await us beyond the grave”’ My answer was in the affirmative but the young man just said “You are wrong; and you are misleading the masses with your theory of heaven.” Before he left, he told me to read Karl Marx’s theory of religion as the opium of the people. Little did this guy know that I teach “The Philosophical Foundation of Karl Marx” in the seminary and I know Karl Marx’s thoughts very well. Anyway, the young man is a clear example of the life philosophies of some young people today.

But I am here to tell you that there is life beyond the grave and Christ gives us a perfect example with his resurrection. We Christians do not need science and philosophy to authenticate to us our belief in the resurrection. One is free to call some of us conservatives and religious bigots; our faith in Christ and the resurrection can never be compromised.

You know: some years ago, I saw a documentary titled “Inquest at Golgotha.” It was a kind of “probe” into what happened to the body of Jesus two days after his death and burial. A number of witnesses were invited to testify at the inquest (probe). They represented diverse interests.

The “enemies” of Jesus – the chief priests, the scribes and Pharisees – all said that the disciples of Jesus stole his body from the tomb where it had been buried. But that was downright unconvincing, since the tomb had been heavily guarded round the clock by crack Roman soldiers. The “friends” of Jesus – his disciples, Mary of Magdala and a bunch of other women – testified that he had risen from the dead. That sounded like fairy tale. Nobody had ever been known to rise spontaneously from the dead before. There had been several well documented cases of someone raising a dead person back to life. Jesus himself did that at least three times during his public ministry. But that a dead person would rise from the dead by himself or herself, that one had never been heard or seen before. The “neutral” – those who were neither “friends” nor “enemies” of Jesus – simply said that they did not know what had happened to his body. One moment it was there in the tomb, the next moment it was gone! How it left the tomb or where it went they did not know.

Somehow, the disciples of Jesus were convinced enough of their own version that he had risen from the dead that it became the cornerstone of their entire lives and subsequent preaching. Nothing, no amount of threats could sway them from their position. When the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Council of the Israelite nation) ordered Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus and about his resurrection, the defiant answer they got from the two apostles was, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge. We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

That was the point. They had seen and heard. During the period of forty days after his body left the tomb, Jesus showed himself to his disciples on a number of occasions and under different circumstances. At first, they too were skeptical. They dearly wished that it was true, that he had risen indeed from the dead. But that did not square with common sense. Nobody had ever done it before. Were they seeing a vision? Was it a ghost? Jesus went to great lengths to convince them. He asked them to touch him, feel his body, that it was real, not a phantom, a ghost. He asked them for food and ate in their presence. Gradually, they came to the conviction that he had risen indeed. It had been a difficult journey. But once they got there, they were never going to go back, not even if it meant being arrested, flogged, or killed.

That is what happens when we have seen or heard something ourselves. That is, we have been eye-witnesses. Somebody did not tell us. Even if we lie to others about what we have seen or heard, we cannot lie to ourselves. Somewhere in the deep recesses of our consciousness, we will still know the truth about what we have seen and heard.

Therefore, faith in the resurrection of Jesus is rooted in the eye-witness profession of his immediate disciples, what they saw and heard. It is not a fairy tale. It is the pillar on which the entire fabric of the Christian religion rests: He has risen as he said. Alleluia! Heaven awaits all believers and so there is something beyond the grave. He who rose from the grave will surely lift us up to heaven one day.

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