“Christianity’s contribution to our culture does not consist in accepting the great rift that divides our modern world, but rather in healing it. The resurrection of the flesh is precisely a witness that this healing is possible.”
When Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was unveiled for the first time, Pope Paul III fell to his knees in an act of reverent adoration, fearful before the figure of Christ in judgment.1 This impression of a Christ condemning the damned has become a widespread interpretation of the painting. It is not the only possible reading, however; Jesus’ raised hand could indeed signify a rejection of the wicked, but it may equally well be viewed as an invitation for the blessed to come toward him. In this view, Christ in judgment is the dynamic center of the painting and sets the entire scene in motion.
This interpretation is reinforced if we consider that Michelangelo’s original intention may have been to illustrate not the final judgment but rather the resurrection of the flesh.2 If this is the case,what the painter intends to focus on is precisely the body of the Redeemer, together with the bodies of all the risen. The center of the picture would then be the powerful strength that radiates from Christ and causes all the figures in the painting to move around him.
In this regard, it is important to note that the body of the risen Christ is not that of Greek sculpture.3 Michelangelo does not portray the self-contained body depicted in ancient art, a body that expresses the nobility and harmony of the soul. To the contrary, this Christian body is full of energy, it is a body that exerts a magnetic attraction over the other bodies on the Sistine wall, a body endowed with a force that springs out into the rest of the picture.
The dynamism that Christ’s risen body bestows upon the entire scene helps us to see the Resurrection not only as the destination point of history, the final moment of a long series, but also as the very source of history’s dynamism. Thus, Easter brings with it a new understanding of time. Is it also a spiritual time, analogous to the spiritual body of the glorious Lord? (cf. 1 Cor 15:44). If so, how can we describe it?
In order to answer these questions we will first present the content of Christian faith in the Resurrection (1) and its implications for a correct interpretation of history (2). We will then discuss how this understanding is not alien to the experience of body and time (3), an experience assumed by Christ throughout his earthly life (4). We will then be ready to consider the Resurrection as the beginning of a risen, spiritual time (5).
1. Resurrection: coming from the Father
The first confessions of faith in Jesus’ resurrection come to us directly from the liturgy of the first Christians. They attest to joy at the surprising event of Easter and its world-changing character: that very Jesus of Nazareth who preached in Galilee and was crucified under Pontius Pilate has now been raised by the Father to his right hand.4
In order to interpret this unique event, the Church had an essential conceptual background at her disposal: the Old Testament scriptures. According to Jewish expectations, the resurrection was not a return to normal life, but the inauguration of the definitive stage of time, of its eschatological fulfillment, which entailed God’s final transformation of the world. Should we deduce from this vision that the resurrection entailed a reviling of history, a sort of spiritual flight into the beyond? To the contrary, this fulfillment was described in continuity with the history of Israel. The God who had made a covenant with his People and had come down to live with them in the Holy Temple, promised to rebuild this Temple with his own hands, bestowing new life on his children in order to make a permanent dwelling with them. Thus, resurrection meant the assumption of this concrete world and history into its fulfilled destiny. Ezekiel’s parable of the dry bones that come back to life (Ez 37:1–14) could be without contradiction an image both of the People that returns to Jerusalem after the exile, and of the final resurrection of the dead.5
Aided by this Jewish backdrop, the disciples formulated how the Easter event was in continuity with the history of the earthly Christ, while also bringing a radical transformation. The image of the body of Christ as the new Temple, destroyed and rebuilt, is important in this regard. The sentence “one and the same,” which was to be applied later by the Church Fathers to express the unity of man and God in Christ, finds its roots in the unity between the risen Lord and the crucified Christ. “It is I myself” (Lk 24:39), says Jesus when he appears to his disciples; and he shows them his wounds in his hands and side (cf. Jn 20:20).
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