Rags to riches

 By Micheal Gilbert C.Ss.R

Fr. Michael GilbertFr. Michael Gilbert is a native of Toowoomba, Queensland. Formerly he was an electrician before being ordained a Redemptorist priest. He has worked as a missioner, retreat giver, adult educator, and chaplain to an aboriginal community. Fr. Michael was leader of the Australian Redemptorists 2002-2007. Currently he is editor of ‘The Majellan’ magazine. He has a passionate interest in the gospel and rugby league.

Queen Victoria once inspected a paper mill. A deferential foreman showed her over the plant and was on hand to answer her questions. She entered the sorting shop. The employees were picking out rags from the city’s refuse. The Queen asked what was done with these dirty rags. The foreman said that they would be made into the finest writing paper.

Some weeks later, Queen Victoria received a package of delicate, pure white stationery bearing her likeness as a watermark. The enclosed note said the stationery was made from the dirty rags she had inspected.

The story is a faint illustration of Christ’s work in the resurrection. It is a work of transformation. The Risen Christ takes a torn and tattered humanity and makes it into something new and wholesome.

                            The resurrection is Christ’s Big-Day-Out

The resurrection is Christ’s Big-Day-Out; Christianity’s Big-Event. Jesus identifies himself as ‘the resurrection.’ “I am the resurrection” (Jn.11:25) In the resurrection, Christ conquers sin and death. He dies in a flesh that was weak but rises imperishable and glorious.

Christ comes to save humanity. Raised to eternal life, he liberates humanity from the burden of sin. He shares his life with those who believe in him. He gives them new life – a life of filial adoption. Believers become brothers and sisters of Christ. “When we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ …… and raised us up with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.”  (Ep.2:5)

The resurrection of Jesus benefits not only believers but all. God sent his Son into the world to be one in solidarity with sinners. Humans are in solidarity with one another by virtue of a shared humanity. Christ shared that humanity. He died and rose not just for the privileged few but for all. All have died in him; and, he was raised for all. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Creation also benefits from the resurrection. Jesus Christ is with the Father and the Spirit in the very act of creation. St. John tells us, “all things came into being through him.” (Jn. 1: 2-3) The Colossians repeats the same message, “for in him were created all things in heaven and earth: everything visible and invisible …… all things were created through him and for him.” (Col. 1:15-16) The Risen Christ is the source from which everything emerges and prospers.

     The role of a disciple is to be a witness of the resurrection

How do we know all this? We know because the Risen Christ reveals it not to the world but to his disciples. To those who believed in him, Jesus’ resurrection confirmed all his works and teachings. The role of a disciple is to “be a witness of the resurrection.” (Ac.1:22) The faith of the disciple is anchored in the Risen One.

The body of Christ’s disciples is called the Church. The Church is founded in the resurrection and not after it. It is the very body of the Risen Christ. “Now you together are Christ’s body” (1Cor.12:11, 27)

The Church shares in and celebrates Christ’s death and resurrection. Its members participate in the task of salvation through the unique redemptive action of Christ.The Risen Christ does even more. He gives to his disciples a mission. It is to bring all people into communion with him and with one another. The Church’s task is to evangelise all nations and to bring them the good news of the resurrection.

Death is no longer the ultimate restraint

The resurrection is good news for all humanity. In Christ, death is defeated. It is defeated not by some disembodied spirit but by a flesh and blood embodied human. Death, painful and frightening though it be, is no longer the ultimate restraint. Christ’s death and resurrection is the dawn of hope for humanity – a hope not just for the preservation of the soul but also hope for our embodied life here on earth. Christ’s risen body is hope’s central symbol.

Faith, hope and the power of the resurrection allow no escape from commitment to this world. The life of Christians in the world is lived with a steady commitment to radiate the hope of the resurrection in every direction and in all our relationships. The hope generated by the resurrection is projected on to all of humanity. It resonates with the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

The resurrection of Christ cannot be separated from his mission to the world. The resurrection did not stop at an empty tomb. Christ sent his disciples into the world, “As the Father sends me, so I am sending you.” (Jn.20:21) This ‘sending’ reaches into all times and all places. It touches every individual’s life and the life of society. Two tasks are foundational: to ensure, preserve and develop the dignity of humans; and, to have all people able to celebrate this dignity in a safe and a loving community.

Christ's disciples and persons of goodwill emancipate the powerless

The disciples of Christ go into the world to conduct and continue Christ’s mission. Through their efforts and example the power of the resurrection saturates all moral existence. Other men and women of good will are swept into this vision of love and life and co-operate with its purpose. The resurrection begins to influence the deeper levels of human existence.

Christ’s disciples and persons of goodwill develop a concern for the common good of humanity. They commit themselves to be in solidarity with their brothers and sisters everywhere. They sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. They choose to serve rather than exploit. They join the struggle to alleviate poverty. They emancipate the powerless.

The power of the resurrection unleashes compassion – a central attribute of God- on human kind. Compassion is marked by a sense of universal inclusiveness that contradicts every attempt to segregate and dominate others. Immoderate individualism cedes to a participative way of living. Like their Risen Master, disciples and their fellow travellers are the peacemakers and reconcilers of this world. They recognise that Jesus himself was a casualty of violence and hatred. Yet, he saw the world through the eyes of love and he re-imagined a world of love and peace. Love and peace pursued in his name are still a revolutionary subversion of ‘the way things are.’

Christ’s risen life transforms the rags of humanity ...

The resurrection touches creation and wishes to restore it and preserve it. Disciples of Christ are aghast at the desecration of the earth. They see ecological violence as blatant ingratitude to the Creator and a threat to the well being of their fellow citizens and the creatures of the earth. They participate in the movements to rectify and heal the earth.

The values of the resurrection give meaning and purpose to human existence. They challenge and overcome the excess of evil by an excess of love. They introduce humanity into a new and deeper understanding of existence. The murky horizon of death and ultimate insignificance broadens to the rosy promise of unlimited life and meaning.

“When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” (Jn. 12:32) The Risen Christ leads the world on a new path. That path is not heaven replacing earth but heaven transforming earth. It is the path of unlimited and unrestrained love.

An old warbler called Tony Bennett used sing “I know I’d go from rags to riches/ If only you would say you cared.”(Don’t know Tony Bennett? Ask your granny.) The Risen Christ does care. His risen life transforms the rags of humanity into the richness of life with God. Gerard Manley Hopkins said it so eloquently:

In a flash, at a trumpet crash
I am all at once what Christ is, / since he was what I am and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, / patch, matchwood, immortal diamond
                                                                                Is immortal diamond