Last of two parts
By Mark 13:30, the second coming of Jesus Christ must have been done before all the people living “now,” meaning two thousand years ago, had all died. But into the 21st century, Iglesia ni Cristo and its ilk uniformly preach salvation that is yet to come.
All Christian ministries are anchored on the one single teaching that Jesus Christ’s resurrection proves the reality of salvation, yes, but it’s the reality of resurrection in the first place that for agnostics and skeptics has been the core of the debate.
Had Christ really resurrected?
Christ was [is]God, right? Had he resurrected, he could have done so right from the interior of the burial cave in which his body had been deposited after the crucifixion. Why the expedience of moving the huge boulder covering the mouth of the cave for his body to pass through once he came to life again?
During my indoctrination into the Iglesia ni Cristo, one of the many questions I raised and never got answered was on Christ making contradictory statements about his resurrection on two separate occasions. The first instance was Jesus Christ’s admonishing Mary Magdalene against touching him once she found him alive again. He told her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet gone back up to the Father.” Yet when Jesus presented himself to his disciples and saw that Thomas was doubting if it was he, Jesus invited him: “Look at my hands and my feet and see that it is I myself. Feel me…” Going by logic, there is manifested a difference in Christ’s nature of being in the two instances. If Magdalene could not touch Jesus because he had not yet come to the Father at that instance, then that Jesus invited Thomas to in fact drive his finger through his wound must mean Jesus must have had already gone back up to the Father in that other instance.
Some extra attention was given by not just one but a team of INC ministers to this particular question of mine. In the end, they advanced the consensus that my cited contradiction in the two instances in Jesus’ resurrection actually must not figure in the matter of salvation.
In simple terms, what is at stake is salvation; no need to bother about touching or not touching the risen Christ.
But I must maintain salvation precisely is a matter of resurrection. These two issues are not independent of each other but are in fact inseparably connected. In 1 Corinthian 15: 52-55, the Apostle Paul writes: “Listen to this secret truth: We shall not all die, but when the last trumpet sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye. For when the trumpet sounds the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal will be changed into what is immortal; what will die will be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: ‘Death is destroyed; victory is complete!’ ”
‘Where, Death, is your victory?
Where, Death, is your power to hurt?’”
We are, I believe, saved precisely because upon us is bestowed resurrection to life everlasting. Without resurrection, there cannot be salvation. Understanding what salvation is, therefore, is understanding what resurrection is.
What, then, is resurrection?
Is it the resurrection in the instance of Mary Magdalene confronting the risen Christ? Or is it the resurrection in the instance of doubting Thomas?
From the time of my indoctrination in the Iglesia ni Cristo, these are the questions I have battled against fiercely, if only within me. And if I had gone on to completing the 25-lesson indoctrination, onward to the pagsubok, the penultimate panata, and the final baptism, my one single motive was to deepen understanding of the scriptures and get final answers to these pestering questions. Sadly, it turned out it is not for INC members to raise questions on fundamental doctrinal issues but simply to obey what the preachers say.
Then came my review of the film “Felix Manalo” which the Manila Times carried in three installments. That got me summoned by O-1 of Rizal INC to whom, aside from other matters internal to my membership in the church, I conveyed my deep yearning for a thorough understanding of Mark 13:30 – such understanding being my personal condition for deciding whether or not to stay within the church. The benign, soft-spoken INC Rizal District head manifested complete understanding of my predicament and made assurances that the matter would be attended to by the proper authority, whoever that was. Nothing has materialized in this regard until now, and thrown back to grappling with the question again all by myself, I resumed seizing every opportunity I get to have answers.
I believe the three-day wake for Beth gave me one more such opportunity.
Here is someone who lies lifeless in a coffin, made to look as lovely as she was in life, all right, but whom you know has undergone pathological defilement of bodily faculties as are done to all cadavers in preparation for internment. Yet as you try to make light out of the heavy grief that’s seizing you, you know, you feel she’s there, she’s not gone at all, memories stream like torrents of the good times and bad you’ve had with her, the joy of first meet and the subsequent bliss of loving and caring and sharing in raising a happy family. Overwhelmed with these remembrances, you know, you feel Beth is alive, she hasn’t died.
How can anybody die who remains forever in the hearts and minds of loved ones?
Last night, the family had its modest noche buena gathering, partaking of little delicacies, opening up gifts, exchanging banters – happiness.
And then we noticed it. Uro, one of our pet dogs and Beth’s constant companion, staring at something. And as we traced its sight, we realized it was casting a plaintive gaze at the photograph of Beth placed alongside the urn containing her ashes which Maripaz had arranged on top of the piano by way of making her share in our traditional family Christmas gathering. Earlier we caught Uro by its lonesome staring through the ajar door of Beth’s room at her empty bed.
Even pets remember.
After all, what is life but sheer memory? Without memory, nothing, nobody can ever exist. When once a poet wrote, “No man is an island”, it is this memorial nature of life that he was writing about. No man really cannot live for himself; he must, out of natural contingency, live for others. Without others having memory of you, you don’t exist, you are nothing.
It is this realization that, with tears welling in your eyes, you pour out in the necrological services for Beth prior to her cremation: Beth has not died. For what is death but the mere demise of her flesh, the weak, frail and corruptible component of her reality? Beth’s life is her good component, and it lives on.
Indeed, “Where, Death is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?”
It has taken me three days to finish this piece, all the way to this Christmas morning.
Beautiful day ahead, I’m sure. Violeta, my eldest sister, second to the youngest in the family, had texted early on, inviting the family for a Christmas reunion. In a while, we should be up and about preparing for the journey to her home in San Mateo, Rizal.
There lies, I rediscover now, and in all candor and sincerity, the beauty of Christmas.
After all is said and done, Christmas is really not about whether or not Christ was born on December 25, not even about whether or not it is written in the Bible, and still not even about whether or not Christ did exist at all. Christmas is really about accepting the very elemental fact that Jesus Christ has been with much of humanity for ages, and has done great wonders toward achieving universal joy, love and peace.