Daily Meditations

Renewal Tuesday–The Death of Death

The Resurrection of Christ was a victory, not over his death only, but over death in general. “We celebrate the death of Death, the downfall of Hell, and the beginning of a life new and everlasting.” In His Resurrection the whole of humanity, all human nature, is co-resurrected with Christ, “the human race is clothed in incorruption.” Co-resurrected not indeed in the sense that all are raised from the grave. Men do still die; but the hopelessness of dying is abolished. Death is rendered powerless, and to all human nature is given the power or “potentia” of resurrection. St. Paul made this quite clear: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen… For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised” (I Cor. 15:13, 16). St. Paul meant to say that the Resurrection of Christ would become meaningless if it were not a universal accomplishment, if the whole Body were not implicitly “pre-resurrected” with the Head. And faith in Christ itself would lose any sense and become empty and vain; there would be nothing to believe in. “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain” (v. 17). Apart from the hope of the General Resurrection, belief in Christ would be in vain and to no purpose; it would only be vainglory. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first- fruits of them that slept” (7 Cor. 15:20). And in this lies the victory of life. “It is true, we still die as before,” says St. John Chrysostom, “but we do not remain in death; and this is not to die… The power and very reality of death is just this, that a dead man has no possibility of returning to life… But if after death he is to be quickened and moreover to be given a better life, then this is no longer death, but a falling asleep.” The same conception is found in St. Athanasius. The “condemnation of death” is abolished. “Corruption ceasing and being put away by the grace of Resurrection, we are henceforth dissolved for a time only, according to our bodies’ mortal nature; like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish, but sown in the earth we shall rise again, death being brought to nought by the grace of the Savior.” This was a healing and a renewing of nature, and therefore there is here a certain compulsion; all will rise, and all will be restored to the fullness of their natural being, yet transformed. From henceforth every disembodiment is but temporary. The dark vale of Hades is abolished by the power of the life-giving Cross.

St. Gregory of Nyssa strongly emphasizes the organic interdependence between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not only a consequence, but a fruit of the death on the Cross. St. Gregory stresses two points especially: the unity of the Divine Hypostasis, in which the soul and body of Christ are linked together even in their mortal separation; and the utter sinlessness of the Lord. And he proceeds: “When our nature, following its proper course, had even in Him been advanced to the separation of soul and body, He knitted together again the disconnected elements, cementing them together, as it were, with a cement of His Divine power, and recombining what was severed in a union never to be broken.

And this is the Resurrection, namely the return, after they have been dissolved, of those elements that have been before linked together, into an indissoluble union through a mutual incorporation; in order that thus the primal grace which invested humanity might be recalled, and we restored to everlasting life, when the vice that had been mixed up with our kind has evaporated through our dissolution… For as the principle of death took its rise in one person and passed on in succession through the whole of human kind, in like manner the principle of the Resurrection extends from one person to the whole of humanity… For when, in that concrete humanity which He had taken to Himself, the soul after the dissolution returned to the body, then this uniting of the several portions passes, as by a new principle, in equal force upon the whole human race. This then is the mystery of God’s plan with regard to His death and His resurrection from the dead.” In another place St. Gregory explains his meaning by the analogy of the broken reed, cloven in twain. Whoever puts the broken parts together, starting from any one end, then also, of necessity, puts together the other end, “and the whole broken reed is completely rejoined.” Thus then in Christ the union of soul and body, again restored, brings to reunion “the whole human nature, divided by death into two parts,” since the hope of resurrection establishes the connection between the separated parts. In Adam our nature was split or dissected into two through sin. Yet in Christ this split is healed completely. This then is the abolition of death, or rather of mortality. In other words, it is the potential and dynamic restoration of the fullness and wholeness of human existence. It is a recreation of the whole human race, a “new creation,” a new revelation of Divine love and Divine power, the consummation of creation.

Adapted from Georges Florovsky, The Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Redemption