In this holy season, a reader of religious studies describes “the bedrock of New Testament faith.”
With one voice, the New Testament proclaims that the cross, death and burial of the Lord were public, witnessed and historical events. But these events are only revealed in the light of Easter without which there simply is no Christian faith and If Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain (1Cor 15:14). On Easter, the Father exalts His Son in Glory. The New Testament affirms the Resurrection clearly, simply, repeatedly and with unanimity: The Lord has risen indeed (ontos). This Jesus God raised up. It is the bedrock of New Testament faith and in its confession the Church is founded.
With grave apostolic dignity, Paul hands on the early testimony to the Resurrection: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve (1Cor 15: 3-5).
Uniquely Piercing our Whole World
The Resurrection does not teach that a dead man has returned to life like the son of the widow of Nain or indeed Lazarus himself. We may have to fight off a lingering sense that Jesus’s body ‘came back’ from the dead. But the difference is too great – he is not restrained by things like locked doors, yet he can eat a piece of fish in the sight of the apostles. The meaning of the Resurrection lies rather in Jesus’s passage, his transitus, to a form of existence that has left death behind once for all – the death he died, he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God (Rm 6:10). Jesus has gone beyond, once for all, the limitations of the present age. In view of this, there is no analogy for the Resurrection of Christ. It uniquely pierces our whole world of living and dying even as it opens a way for us into the everlasting life of God.
Though without analogy, still the Resurrection took place in historical time and space. We can roughly date it and locate it. The tomb where his body had lain is found empty and this leads to the fact that he is no longer here (Mk 16:6). Within history, however, the empty tomb is an ambiguous fact. The immediate event had no witnesses. The empty tomb cannot substitute for Easter faith that acknowledges here the action of the Living God. It is rank understatement to say news of the Resurrection caught the disciples by surprise.
In the shorter ending of St. Mark (16:1-8) his entire gospel concludes on the note of fear before the empty tomb and the calm proclamation ‘he has been raised; he is not here.’ The Resurrection simply lays outside the boundary of what any reasonable person could plausibly have expected. Yet this is from of old the faith of Abraham who believed that God gives life to the dead (Rm 4:17) and who rejoiced that he saw the day of Christ (Jn 8:56). Resurrection faith is the faith of Abraham and it possesses the same structure and vitality of his faith that left the security of homeland and is sent to an unknown land: I will show you.
A Starting Over
Together with Magdalene and with the mother of James and Salome (Mk 16: 1-8), we approach this precipice of Resurrection sharing their fear because everything is new, a starting over. Standing on this precipice of Christ’s Resurrection, I am no longer who I was or who I thought I was. On this precipice of Resurrection nothing is familiar. I do not recognize the old haunts and markers nor hear the sirens’ call.
Where the Lord has passed has become the measure of everything. I die with him in order to pass over with him – our bodies are sown or buried perishable (given over to death) but rises imperishable, sown (buried)in dishonor but raised in glory, sown(buried) in weakness but raised in power, sown (buried) a physical body but raised a spiritual body (1Cor 15:42-44). These extraordinary antitheses suggest that the Risen Jesus no longer belongs to space and time and that what has happened to him shall happen to us as the effect of his dying, rising, ascending and pouring out on us His Spirit. This is the mystery of love whose effects counter darkness, fear, hatred — a thorough and profound transformation of human life. In him I value things differently, searching for the pearl of great price in the fields of the earth, the one thing necessary in all the concrete details of life.
Time itself has changed because Resurrection happened along its duration, on its watch and inside it. By degrees, our fear at the edge of this precipice is broken open. I am no longer a slave to the fear of death and this truth has set me free. My ego is much diminished because I no longer live but the Risen Jesus lives in me — the same one who loves me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20). God is faithful to His Word — He has made all things new in raising His Son to life. I live the Lord’s dying and rising in the life of Baptism.
What can be proven historically about the Resurrection is the conviction of the witnesses and the historical kerygma or preaching of the ancient church as we can see, e.g., in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The witnesses to the resurrection are those who knew and loved the Lord but none of them expected Resurrection. It was not in the cards and that is why it was greeted with such fear and bewilderment that concluded that someone must have stolen the body of Jesus but who and why?
Inviting to This Dying and Rising
The Risen Lord has to come to them and give them sight or faith. He calls Magdalen by name. The Emmaus disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread (the Emmaus gospel is patterned on a very early Christian Eucharist…so early it predates the writing of the Emmaus gospel)! And Thomas touched the sacred wounds that would blossom and flower in His tender expression of faith: “My Lord and My God.”
All this culminates in Jesus sending us in our lives to the world — to the human family — to invite all to this dying and rising in Him which is a way of expressing the forgiveness of sin and alienation. I ask myself: how do I die and rise each day? To whom does the Risen Lord send me?
— Fr. Kevin, who taught in Siena College’s religious studies and classics departments as well as adult education classes at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City for 30 years, has been stationed at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in New York City since 2014. He is marking his 50th anniversary as a friar this year.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal theme — are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The newsletter’s previous seasonal reflection, by Roderic Petrie, OFM, titled “Jesus on Call” was published March 9, 2016.
- Staff of Holy Name of Jesus Parish
- “New York City Parish Marks Franciscans’ Anniversary” — Nov. 24, 2015, HNP Today
- “Siena Community Fetes Kevin Tortorelli” — Sept. 26, 2012, HNP Today