The Joy of the Resurrection

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14)

Easter Sunday, the day of remembrance of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is a time of celebration for Christians. Easter is a time of immense joy. Why?

As Paul alluded to above, Christ’s resurrection is the defining event of Christianity. The truth and nature of the faith are grounded in the historicity and veracity of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. The good news depends on it, as does the very existence of the Church. Catholic convert and philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote, “When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation was not ‘Love your enemies’ but ‘Christ is risen!’ This was not a new ideal but a new event: that God became man, died, and rose for our salvation.” It is the major theme of Paul’s teaching and of the entire New Testament as a whole. The apostles preached throughout the Roman Empire that Jesus the Jewish rabbi who had been crucified by Pontius Pilate was actually not dead but alive! They also proclaimed a resurrection of the body—the dogma that says that people who believe in and obey this risen rabbi as Lord will one day be bodily resurrected into eternal life with Him.

The resurrection of Jesus is essential for many reasons.

Conquering Death: Christ’s resurrection from the dead wasn’t like that of Lazarus. It wasn’t merely coming back from the dead, like resuscitation or reincarnation. Rather, it was a raising up into a glorified type of human eternal life. After being raised, His physical body was transformed and glorified, no longer constrained by human pain or weakness. Jesus was dead for three days, and then by His resurrection, He conquered death. This complete conquering allows death to be transformative for Christians; it opens the way to eternal life with Jesus. In baptism, we are crucified with Him and in our lives as disciples, we die to ourselves. Through doing so, we have hope that we will one day rise with Him. Physical death, which we all will experience one day, can now be something believers don’t have to fear because of Christ’s resurrection. His empty tomb can redefine the way we look at our own graves. Death has been destroyed by Christ’s resurrection and we can have hope of eternal life because of it!

The Church: The Resurrection means that our Savior is not dead, but alive and active in the world. He is present with us. The Resurrection allows Jesus to be the living Head of the Church. He is risen, He is glorified, He is King. And His Kingdom is coming. Without the Resurrection, there would be no Church, for there would be no risen Lord to worship or King to reign. The Church’s mission is to go and proclaim the good news of salvation in the risen Christ; without the risen Christ, the Church would have no reason to exist. In addition, the Church can’t function without the sacraments of Baptism or the Eucharist. The sacraments get their power and efficacy from Christ. The fact that He is alive and glorified allows Him to work through the Church and dispense His grace via His sacraments. The only reason for Baptism is to bring people into union with the risen Christ and to receive His life, forgiveness and grace. The reason for the Eucharist is sacramental union with Jesus Himself who is not dead but alive and present. The Resurrection allows Christ’s conquering of death to be actualized in individual believers through the Church.

Forgiveness: The Resurrection enabled a New Covenant between people and God. By rising to life after His sacrificial death, Jesus proved His ability to forgive us of our sins. The forgiveness freely given to us by God is made possible because of His sacrifice and resurrection. Since He is alive, as our High Priest He can give us the fruits of that sacrifice – forgiveness and renewal by grace. We can be forgiven because Jesus died and rose again.

Transformation: The Resurrection allows believers to be confident in God’s ability and desire to turn darkness into light, to take what is dead and bring it back to life. The Resurrection is a light for Christians to rely on and a lens by which we can see. It enables us to trust that God brings beauty from ashes, that He is in the business of redeeming even the darkest parts of the world. The very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living in each Christian, guiding and sanctifying us. The Resurrection brings hope into our lives even when things seem hopeless, because we have a God who resurrects. The empty tomb of Jesus means that God can transform us, forgive us, and set us free from sin and death. We can now have hope that our present suffering leads to joy, since the Passion always leads to the Resurrection.

Knowing Christ: Because Jesus lives, we can know God personally. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross opened the gates of heaven, and His resurrection from the dead makes it possible for people to be in real, ontological relationship with God. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our trespasses by laying down His life for us on the cross, and He was raised for our justification. His death and resurrection are God’s provision for our salvation. As our living Great High Priest, He offers to us fruits of His sacrifice –  the Holy Spirit and union with Him. We can now meet the living, resurrected Jesus through repentance, faith, and baptism. We can now be born again through His resurrection. We can now have real and authentic relationship with God. Christ comes and lives in believers, guiding us to eternal life with Him. All of this is possible because He rose from the dead.

Identity Confirmation: The Resurrection is God’s most crucial motive of credibility. Motives of credibility are ways that God makes His voice known in the world, that align with our human reason. They enable human acts of faith to be reasonable, and not fideistic leaps of faith. Throughout history, God has provided these means so that humans can have faith in Him—including miracles and prophesies. Christ’s miracles, fulfillment of prophesies, and His resurrection all serve to authenticate His message of divine authority. He claimed to be divine; to have God’s authority; to be God Himself. Since anyone can make similar claims, He provided supporting events to serve as motives of credibility. The Resurrection was the biggest and most important motive. Christ prophesied that He would be put to death and rise on the third day; and all the evidence certainly points to the fulfillment of that prophesy. Humans can take an objective look at Jesus’ claims to divinity, combine that with the evidence for His resurrection from the dead, and make an act of faith in Him—that He is who He said He was. Now, the truth of the Resurrection doesn’t automatically mean Jesus is God; He could just have been a non-divine Jewish rabbi that God decided to raise from the dead. The fact of Christ’s resurrection doesn’t necessarily mean that He was God Himself. BUT, when combined with His authority claims (that He is God, Lord, and Savior), the evidence for the Resurrection points towards the conclusion that Jesus really is what and who he claimed to be—God our Savior. The Resurrection also presents us with a choice: will we believe, or not? When that act of faith is made in Christ’s identity, a believer can adore Him as God, obey Him as Lord, and rely on Him as Savior and Redeemer.

Fr. Sloun wrote, “Easter is the greatest feast of our faith. We are an Easter people, a people marked by joyfulness. Jesus is raised. He has conquered sin and death. His victory is our victory. His death means our redemption. His resurrection means our salvation. How could a person not be filled with joy over such wonderful news?” Easter is a time in the Church to recognize the greatness of our God, to praise Jesus for dying for us, and to thank Him for rising so that we too can be raised into newness of life with Him. We can experience joy of the resurrection on Easter and every day we live as Christ-followers. Hallelujah, He is risen!

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