But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it. -Acts 2:24
“Impossible” is a word that we hear commonly enough, such as in the cry “That’s impossible!” This phrase can be used at times as an expression of incredulity, and at other times of hopelessness and fear. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear “impossible” used in what is probably a less common way: to express inevitability and certainty. St. Peter boldly proclaims to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost that it was impossible for Jesus Christ to have been conquered by death. It was impossible for Him not to have been resurrected. Peter’s confidence in the Resurrection stems from two sources: 1) David’s prophecy that God would never suffer His “holy one to see corruption” (Ps 16:10), and 2) the fact that Peter himself and many others had seen Jesus alive.
We have access to the promises of God in Scripture just as Peter did, but unfortunately, it was not given to us all to be personal eyewitnesses of the Resurrection. We rely on the testimony of others for knowledge that it actually took place. Even St. Peter and the apostles, though, did not themselves see the Resurrection actually happen. They relied first of all on someone else’s testimony before Christ visited them personally. The apostles were told by St. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Mk 28:8-15, in the Gospel today), who in turn were first told by the angels at the tomb.
We might ask why we should not all have seen the Resurrection if God were really serious about winning our conversions. Well, says St. Thomas Aquinas, that’s just the way He chooses to work in matters that are special favors of grace. God chooses to reveal things to higher persons (beginning with angels), who then reveal them to the rest of us. The Resurrection was not a mere return of Jesus to ordinary human existence. Rather, as St. Thomas explains, “Christ on rising did not return to the familiar manner of life, but to a kind of immortal and God-like condition” (ST III q.55 a.2). In other words, Christ had a glorified body when He arose, the kind that we’ll have, should we someday be counted among the blessed. Jesus takes on a mode of life that is beyond our ordinary understanding, and so there’s a certain fittingness to the Resurrection not being a public event.
Christ became one of us to redeem and restore us. As our model and exemplar, He demonstrates how to live a truly human life. He spread knowledge of this life and of His Father to people by preaching and teaching. In like manner, His Resurrection is the exemplar and cause of the future glory that awaits those who follow Him. Belief in that glorious future is also disseminated by preaching and teaching, and by the effect that it works in the lives of those who witness to it. The power of Christ’s redeeming death breaks the hold that sin has on us if we but accept the participation in it that He offers. Do this and it will be impossible that we should not also be resurrected with Him. Knowing this should fill us with the joy that filled the women in the Gospel, and impel us to go out and share it.
Image: Bergognone, Christ Rising from the Tomb