On the Resurrection of the Lord*
(A Homily by Pope Leo the Great)
We must all be partakers in Christ’s Resurrection life
In my last sermon,** dearly-beloved, not inappropriately, as I think, we explained to you our participation in the cross of Christ, whereby the life of believers contains in itself the mystery of Easter, and thus what is honored at the feast is celebrated by our practice. And how useful this is you yourselves have proved, and by your devotion have learned, how greatly benefited souls and bodies are by longer fasts, more frequent prayers, and more liberal alms. For there can be hardly any one who has not profited by this exercise, and who has not stored up in the recesses of his conscience something over which he may rightly rejoice. But these advantages must be retained with persistent care, lest our efforts fall away into idleness, and the devil’s malice steal what GOD’S grace gave. Since, therefore, by our forty days’ observance we have wished to bring about this effect, that we should feel something of the Cross at the time of the LORD’S Passion, we must strive to be found partakers also of Christ’s Resurrection, and “pass from death unto life” [John 5:24], while we are in this body. For when a man is changed by some process from one thing into another, not to be what he was is to him an ending, and to be what he was not is a beginning. But the question is, to what a man either dies or lives: because there is a death, which is the cause of living, and there is a life, which is the cause of dying. And nowhere else but in this transitory world are both sought after, so that upon the character of our temporal actions depend the differences of the eternal retributions. We must die, therefore, to the devil and live to GOD: we must perish to iniquity that we may rise to righteousness. Let the old sink, that the new may rise; and since, as says the Truth, “no one can serve two masters” [Matthew 6:24], let not him be Lord who has caused the overthrow of those that stood, but Him Who has raised the fallen to victory.
GOD did not leave His soul in hell, nor suffer His flesh to see corruption
Accordingly, since the Apostle says, “the first man is of the earth earthy, the second man is from heaven heavenly. As is the earthy, such also are they that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthy, so let us also bear the image of Him Who is from heaven” [1 Corinthians 15:47-49], we must greatly rejoice over this change, whereby we are translated from earthly degradation to heavenly dignity through His unspeakable mercy, Who descended into our estate that He might promote us to His, by assuming not only the substance but also the conditions of sinful nature, and by allowing the impassibility of Godhead to be affected by all the miseries which are the lot of mortal manhood. And hence that the disturbed minds of the disciples might not be racked by prolonged grief, He with such wondrous speed shortened the three days’ delay which He had announced, that by joining the last part of the first and the first part of the third day to the whole of the second, He cut off a considerable portion of the period, and yet did not lessen the number of days. The Saviour’s Resurrection therefore did not long keep His soul in Hades, nor His flesh in the tomb; and so speedy was the quickening of His uncorrupted flesh that it bore a closer resemblance to slumber than to death, seeing that the Godhead, Which quitted not either part of the Human Nature which He had assumed, reunited by Its power that which Its power had separated.
Christ’s manifestations after the resurrection showed that His Person was essentially the same as before
And then there followed many proofs, whereon the authority of the Faith to be preached through the whole world might be based. And although the rolling away of the stone, the empty tomb, the arrangement of the linen cloths, and the angels who narrated the whole deed by themselves fully built up the truth of the LORD’S Resurrection, yet did He often appear plainly to the eyes both of the women and of the Apostles, not only talking with them, but also remaining and eating with them, and allowing Himself to be handled by the eager and curious hands of those whom doubt assailed. For to this end He entered when the doors were closed upon the disciples, and gave them the Holy Spirit by breathing on them, and after giving them the light of understanding opened the secrets of the Holy Scriptures, and again Himself showed them the wound in the side, the prints of the nails, and all the marks of His most recent Passion, whereby it might be acknowledged that in Him the properties of the Divine and Human Nature remained undivided, and we might in such sort know that the Word was not what the flesh is, as to confess GOD’S only Son to be both Word and Flesh.
But though it is the same, it is also glorified
The Apostle of the Gentiles, Paul, dearly-beloved, does not disagree with this belief, when he says, “even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more” [2 Corinthians 5:16]. For the LORD’S Resurrection was not the ending, but the changing of the flesh, and His substance was not destroyed by His increase of power. The quality altered, but the nature did not cease to exist: the body was made impassible, which it had been possible to crucify: it was made incorruptible, though it had been possible to wound it. And properly is Christ’s flesh said not to be known in that state in which it had been known, because nothing remained passible in it, nothing weak, so that it was both the same in essence and not the same in glory. But what wonder if St. Paul maintains this about Christ’s body, when he says of all spiritual Christians, “wherefore henceforth we know no one after the flesh” [2 Corinthians 5:16]. Henceforth, he says, we begin to experience the resurrection in Christ, since the time when in Him, Who died for all, all our hopes were guaranteed to us. We do not hesitate in diffidence, we are not under the suspense of uncertainty, but having received an earnest of the promise, we now with the eye of faith see the things which will be, and rejoicing in the uplifting of our nature, we already possess what we believe.
Being saved by hope, we must not fulfill the lusts of the flesh
Let us not then be taken up with the appearances of temporal matters, neither let our contemplations be diverted from heavenly to earthly things. Things which as yet have for the most part not come to pass must be reckoned as accomplished: and the mind intent on what is permanent must fix its desires there, where what is offered is eternal. For although “by hope we were saved” [cf Romans 8:24], and still bear about with us a flesh that is corruptible and mortal, yet we are rightly said not to be in the flesh, if the fleshly affections do not dominate us, and are justified in ceasing to be named after that, the will of which we do not follow. And so, when the Apostle says, “make not provision for the flesh in the lusts thereof” [cf Romans 13:14], we understand that those things are not forbidden us, which conduce to health and which human weakness demands, but because we may not satisfy all our desires nor indulge in all that the flesh lusts after, we recognize that we are warned to exercise such self-restraint as not to permit what is excessive nor refuse what is necessary to the flesh, which is placed under the mind’s control. And hence the same Apostle says in another place, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourished and cherished it” [cf Ephesians 5:29]; in so far, of course, as it must be nourished and cherished not in vices and luxury, but with a view to its proper functions, so that nature may recover herself and maintain due order, the lower parts not prevailing wrongfully and debasingly over the higher, nor the higher yielding to the lower, lest if vices overpower the mind, slavery ensues where there should be supremacy.
Our godly resolutions must continue all the year round, not be confined to Easter only
Let GOD’S people then recognize that they are a new creation in Christ, and with all vigilance understand by Whom they have been adopted and Whom they have adopted. Let not the things, which have been made new, return to their ancient instability; and let not him who has “put his hand to the plough” [Luke 9:62] forsake his work, but rather attend to that which he sows than look back to that which he has left behind. Let no one fall back into that from which he has risen, but, even though from bodily weakness he still languishes under certain maladies, let him urgently desire to be healed and raised up. For this is the path of health through imitation of the Resurrection begun in Christ, whereby, notwithstanding the many accidents and falls to which in this slippery life the traveller is liable, his feet may be guided from the quagmire on to solid ground, for, as it is written, “the steps of a man are directed by the LORD, and He will delight in his way. When the just man falls he shall not be overthrown, because the LORD will stretch out His hand” [cf Psalm 37:23-24]. These thoughts, dearly-beloved, must be kept in mind not only for the Easter festival, but also for the sanctification of the whole life, and to this our present exercise ought to be directed, that what has delighted the souls of the faithful by the experience of a short observance may pass into a habit and remain unalterably, and if any fault creep in, it may be destroyed by speedy repentance. And because the cure of old-standing diseases is slow and difficult, remedies should be applied early, when the wounds are fresh, so that rising ever anew from all downfalls, we may deserve to attain to the incorruptible Resurrection of our glorified flesh in Christ Jesus our LORD, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.
*Leo the Great, Sermon LXXI. Sermons in P. Schaff & H. Wace (Editors.), C. L. Feltoe (Translator) Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 181–184), (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895).
**Ostensibly preached on Good Friday.
Art for this post on the Resurrection of the Lord: Auferstehung Christi (Resurrection of Christ), Marco dal Pino, circa 1555, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.