Opening the Word: God of the Living

Throughout the Scriptures, God conquers chaos.

In the creation of the world, God masters the chaos of the formless wasteland through speaking but a word, “Let there be light” (Gn 1:3).

In the Exodus, God conquers the chaos of Egyptian tyranny, leading Israel through the Red Sea (Ex 14:10-31). God raises up the chosen people from their enslavement, crowning them with glory and honor (Ps 8:6) through the gift of the Law and worship in the Temple.

From death, new life becomes possible.

As the Scriptures continue, Israel begins to hope that God will conquer the ultimate chaos of death itself.

We must take very seriously the reality of death. Our bodies decompose, entering back into the earth. The companionship that we wanted to share for eternity with our spouse, our best friend, and our children ends. In thinking about this death, we may cry out with the Psalmist, “Look upon me, have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted” (Ps 25:16).

Look upon me and rescue me from the chaos.

Jesus, the splendor of the Father, has come into the world to rescue us from the chaos of death. Not all took kindly to this news.

The Sadducees, who did not believe that the dead would rise from their graves at the end of time, tested Jesus. They use an absurd possibility, the unluckiest wife who has seven husbands die before her, rises from the dead. Which one is her husband?

Jesus turns their objection upside down. In the coming age, there will be no marriage. We do not rise from the dead just to continue the life that we have in the present. The resurrection from the dead is God’s conquering of the chaos of death itself: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob … he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Lk 20:37-38).

In Jesus Christ, the God of life has conquered the chaos of death. We can sing the hymn of praise of Byzantine Christians each and every Sunday: “Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” Love has won.

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But, you may say to yourself, I don’t see death being conquered. I still see a world obsessed with it. Conquered by it. Chaotic wars in which death seems to reign. Chaotic politics in which death becomes our law. Chaotic illness in which in our loved ones die too young.

Yet, the foolish hope of Christians is that though creation still groans (cf. Rm 8:22), the first fruits of the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:20) are even now available to those who gaze with the eyes of faith.

Christ has risen from the dead. Chaos has met its match. And now we wait with anxious hearts for the final transformation of the world: “in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet … the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52).

We shall be changed. For the God of life cannot forget his chosen people. The God of life cannot forget that original covenant given to Israel, given to the Church, given to the entire human family.

Chaos has been conquered. Death is not the last word. Let us sing with Paul that glorious hymn, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55).

The chaos of death will be conquered. An audacious hope indeed.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.