By Bishop James Conley
“If Christ had not been raised from the dead,” St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ.”
St. Paul did not mince words. He told the Corinthians clearly that if the Resurrection were not a fact of history, Christianity would be a falsehood, a cruel lie. Today, 2,000 years later, the same thing is true. We claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Because this is true, we base our lives upon it. If it were not true, we would be living with foolish delusions.
In “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “the Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.”
Without this, Benedict wrote, “the Christian faith would be dead.… Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.”
But the Christian faith is not dead. Two thousand years after Christ’s Incarnation, the world is full of believers — men and women who believe that God became man, was born of a virgin, was crucified, died, and then rose again. Around the world, 2,000 years after Christ walked the earth, men and women still give their lives because they believe that claim is true.
We believe because of witnesses — of those disciples who saw that Jesus had conquered death, and risen from the grave. Those witnesses, Benedict said “were confronted with what was, for them, an entirely new reality, far beyond the limits of their experience.” They struggled to describe it. They struggled to understand it. But they experienced that Jesus Christ had been dead, and then was alive. And that through his Resurrection, he was an entirely new kind of being.
“If we were dealing simply with the miracle of resuscitated corpse,” Benedict put it bluntly, “it would ultimately be of no concern to us. For it would be no more important than the resurrection of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. For the world as such and for our human existence, nothing would have changed.”
The Resurrection was something different. In the Resurrection, Jesus returned in a new kind of human life — life that has conquered death, life that is not threatened by death, life that, as Pope Benedict wrote, “affects everyone, that opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind.”
When Jesus was raised from the dead, he conquered death — his body refused to be bound by death. He lived in a glorified body. And he opened that up to us. Because he was raised from the dead, he opened the possibility that every single one of us, by living new life in him, might live in a glorified body for all eternity, in unity with him, and with the Trinity, forever.
That is what the witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection saw, experienced, and struggled to understand at the first Easter morning, almost 2,000 years ago. That, and that alone, is what makes our faith true, St. Paul says. That is what we place our faith in. That is why men and women give their lives for faith. And that is what we celebrate on Easter.
Jesus conquered death. His body was glorified. We can overcome the pain of sin and death, through him. Our bodies can be glorified. We can live eternally with God. That is what we celebrate this Easter.
Alleluia! Ressurexit sicut dixit — Christ is risen, as he said! Let us be raised to new life in unity with him!