If Christ Has Not Been Raised Our Preaching and Our Faith is Empty
This past week in morning prayer I was moved by the words which the Apostle Paul addressed to the Christians in Corinth. They were the first reading at the Catholic Liturgy, the Mass, of the day:
Brothers and sisters: If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.
Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:12-20)
Those were strong words – and strong for a very good reason!
Already, in the first century of the Church, as close in time as those early Christians were to the actual Resurrection of Jesus Christ, His followers were beginning to doubt that His Resurrection was not only an historic fact, but what awaited each one of them. Finally, they forgot it was meant to inform their entire lives.Already present in that nascent Christin community were errant teachers who denied the physical resurrection of Jesus. They tried to recast it as simply some kind of spiritual allegory. Sound familiar? We need to be aware of our own history as a Church. There really is nothing new. There is also no new heresy, no new false teaching.
The great Apostle Paul knew that such a fundamentally dangerous error must be rooted out of the Church – because it undermines the entire Gospel message and will undermine the way of life of anyone who seeks to follow Jesus Christ. Further, its implications for our very human existence, as new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) could be staggering if left uncorrected.
The centrality of the Resurrection of Jesus was underscored by the New Way of Life demonstrated by the early Christians. In Antioch they were first called Christians. (Acts 11:26). Before that they were called the way and the new way, referring to their very different way of life. That way of life was fueled by the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life!” (John 14:6) It was on the first day of the week that Jesus was raised from the dead. On that day He began the new creation. This fact infused their language. For example, the early Christians called it the Eighth Day, because it was the day outside of time. It was the “first day of the week,” the Lord’s Day – and not the Sabbath.
In 1998, now St John Paul II issued a beautiful reflection on the Lord’s Day which summarizes the ancient Christian understanding of the Lord’s Day and re-presents it for you and me. It is called On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy. I strongly recommend it to all my readers. It can be read online but I strongly suggest it be ordered in the paperback edition – so it can sit next to you every day at that place where you spend time in prayer and reflection. You will want to return to it often. You can order it here. John Paul begins with these words:
The Lord’s Day – as Sunday was called from Apostolic times – has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time Sunday recalls the day of Christ’s Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death, the fulfillment in him of the first creation and the dawn of “the new creation” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17). It is the day which recalls in grateful adoration the world’s first day and looks forward in active hope to “the last day,” when Christ will come in glory (cf. Acts 1:11; 1 Th 4:13-17) and all things will be made new (cf. Rev 21:5).
In our Catholic liturgical calendar, we celebrate the Feast of Easter for eight days with special liturgies which set forth the wonderful post resurrection appearances of Jesus. However, it should not not stop there. Liturgically, we continue this celebration for fifty days until Pentecost! Even more so, EVERY Sunday is called a little Easter. That is why we never fast on Sunday.
All of this is meant to underscore that the Resurrection is about more than one day, it is about a NEW WAY of living our lives RIGHT NOW in the Risen Savior – by living in His Body, the Church. We are members of His Body and He continues His redemptive mission until His glorious return.
Life is meant to be different now because He has been raised! That tomb was – and is empty. Death could not contain Crucified, poured out Love. The debt has been paid, the last enemy death has been defeated and heavens gates have been opened wide. Because He lives we shall live forever in Him.
There is a glorified Resurrected Savior seated at the right hand of the Father and He holds a place for you and for me! We will also be raised and live in a New Heaven and a New Earth. We will not float around as some disembodied spirit. Redemption is meant for the whole person, body, soul and spirit. It will only be complete in the coming Resurrection from the dead of every believer. However, its effects begin even now for those with living faith who learn to cooperate with grace.
Through taking on our human nature, Jesus did what we could not do for ourselves. He suffered the penalty for all the wrong choices, the sins, the misused and abused exercises of our human freedom. He bridged the gap that had opened wide between the Father, who had created us for eternal communion, and the sons and daughters who had rejected His invitation. He restored us to a higher place now, through His obedience unto death, even death on a Cross. Now, the stone is rolled away and we live our live in Him.
In His sacred humanity, He transformed the entirety of the human experience and invites us all into a new way of life, beginning right here, right now. This NEW WAY OF LIFE called Christianity leads us to fullness of life now and eternal life and love in the world to come. He has torn the veil that existed between heaven and earth and opened up the beauty and hope of eternity for all who were once bound by the chains of time. He has given purpose, meaning and destination to the lost sheep wandering aimlessly in empty self pursuits.
He carries forward the redemptive promise through time in and through His Body on earth, His church, into which we have been baptized and of which we are now members. All of our tomorrows, however many (or few) there may be in this life, can now be filled with redemptive purpose – if we choose to live them “in Him.” We can find the meaning and purpose of eternity revealed in the temporal realities of every today and tomorrow.
The real stuff of our mundane daily lives can become the ingredients of our own sanctification and the materials out of which the new creation is fashioned around us. The materials have not changed; we have, because He lives now in us. There is nothing we face alone now, no tomorrow that is not now redeemed and made new in the One who is timeless but who, out of love, came into time to redeem and transform it!
Life for a Christian is not circular but linear. It is always moving forward to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, both personally and universally. There is a beginning – and an end – which is but a new beginning in the One who is Himself both the Beginning and the End. Time is now purposeful and unfolds into eternity, in Him who has entered time and transformed it by His life, death and Resurrection.
The dirt, the ground, which was fashioned through Him, and upon which He breathed and came forth the first man, that ground upon which He walked in His earthly mission and into which they placed His sacred, lifeless Body, that ground could not contain Him; when the time had fully come it opened and He rose victorious from the dead!
That Glorious Day, the first day of the week, the first day of the new creation, the Day that the early Christians called the Eighth Day, the Lord’s Day; is outside of time and opens the portal of eternity for Christians. That is if we allow the Holy Spirit to open its meaning and transform us from within.
He was the firstborn and we follow now in His trail. He began the new creation and is making all things new now, within us and around us. “Be not afraid” He cries out as the stone bursts forth. “Be gone fear” He manifests the light that dispels all the darkness! “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.”
The author of that ancient letter to the Hebrews, uncovered the root of all fear, the fear of death:
Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. (Hebrews 2:14-15).
All fear is gone because death has been dealt a fatal blow. He conquered death by His death. Through sin, death came into the world, and now through the Sinless One it has been vanquished. No longer an enemy it becomes a friend, an ally, to those who choose to live in the One who lives! No longer need it be an end. Rather, it becomes a new beginning for those who choose to hide their lives in His wounded side and live their lives joined to Him.
Nothing, nothing can separate us from that Love incarnated in the Crucified, Risen Son of the True and Living God, nothing. There is nothing to fear! The empty angst so evident in much of the contemporary human experience reveals the presence of a gaping hole in the human soul. It has been there since the first wrong choice in Eden. Though some of the bad fruit may seem to be contemporary in its expression, this emptiness is no different than the hole in the soul experienced by the ancients.
Nothing but God can satisfy that hunger in the human heart, that aching for meaning and purpose. No-thing can fill that hole – but Some-One can. Blaise Pascal wrote of this hole in the soul as a “God shaped vacuum.” St. Augustine of Hippo expressed this universally experienced sentiment, “Our hearts are restless God until they rest in Thee.” We were created for purpose. We were created for meaning. We were created for Love. We were created for relationship. We were created for God.
When we learn to embrace the implications of that empty tomb, and allow grace to work within us, we are made ready for eternity – by living differently every day. The Resurrection provides a framework, a hermeneutic, a lens of meaning, for everything that happens now in the stuff of our daily life. Even suffering, now takes on value – redemptive, life transforming value – because He has been raised and we can join it to His suffering.
We speak of the Paschal mystery when referring to the Saving Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. To the ancients, the word mystery referred to that which is beyond our frail capacity to be fully grasped- because of our finite limitations and the limitations of language. It spoke to eternity. The mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is that kind of mystery. It changes us, if we embrace it in faith – and live it in fact – every day. The empty tomb makes us new. The empty tomb makes the whole world new!
The Resurrection has implications for each one of us – beginning right now and stretching into life eternal. The Apostle Paul said with clarity:
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
We too – you and me – will be raised from the dead. Only then will our redemption be complete.
We are now works in progress. However, that new life of the Resurrection can begin now for those with eyes of living faith, hearts filled with His presence, and minds renewed by the Light of the Truth which Jesus has fully revealed and freely imparts to those who love and follow Him.
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