Saturday, August 20, 2005

If Christ is Not Risen

It has been fashionable in some circles for a number of years to dismiss the bodily resurrection of Christ as mythical and scientifically impossible (isn’t it strange how people can tell the Creator of the universe what is possible? Good thing God didn’t know that it was impossible to raise his Son—He might never have decided to do it!). In any case, it is seen as superfluous to our faith, something we cannot know really happened and therefore doesn’t really matter. They like to go around saying things like: “If someone were to discover a tomb with the bones of Christ in it, that would not disturb my faith.” I would have to conclude that such a person has precious little faith left to disturb.

St Paul makes the point quite clearly and succinctly: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1Cor. 15:17). Everything hinges on the resurrection of Christ. Not only is our faith worthless if there was no resurrection, but we have nothing to hope for beyond this life. “Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (vv. 18-19).

It is clear that for St Paul the death and resurrection of Christ are inseparable saving acts, or perhaps we could say it is one great act (his “glorification,” according to St John) that is accomplished over a period of several days. St Paul says that Christ died for our sins—but his death is not salvific in isolation from the resurrection, for he also says that if Christ was not raised from the dead, we are still in our sins. To end the argument, he declares: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v.20), and then he launches into a description of the Lord’s ultimate victory and of the nature of the risen body, which we can expect to enjoy for all eternity, precisely because Christ is risen from the dead.

When the end comes, Christ will “deliver the kingdom to God the Father… The last enemy to be destroyed is death… that God may be everything to everyone” (vv. 24-28). It would be vain and deceptive to speak of the destruction of death if Christ was not raised and hence we are not raised. Death would be for us what it is for plants and animals: the definitive cessation of biological and conscious life. But there is infinitely more in store for us. “Lo, I tell you a mystery… the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [i.e., those still alive when the Lord returns] shall be transformed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality… ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 51-57).

What is your ultimate hope? How do you see your destiny? Could you ever dare to say you have faith in Christ without believing in his resurrection, and ours? Christianity is nothing more than a collection (one among many) of wise sayings, didactic stories, and moral precepts—if Jesus Christ is not the incarnate Son of God, who died and rose from the dead in order to grant us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. The Church, from the time of the original apostles, has always believed in the resurrection of Christ and of all mankind—until the modern age of apostasy and systematic doubt, in which many in the Church have lost their faith.

Jesus preached resurrection, as did Paul and the other authors of Scripture and all the Fathers of the Church. Be clear and steadfast about what you believe—if your faith has no place for resurrection, it is not Christian faith. Hold fast to the faith of our fathers, or you will die in your sins. Believe in the resurrection, and rise to immortal life!