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‘The great resurrection chapter’

One chapter of Scripture that every Catholic should be familiar with is 1 Cor 15, the “great resurrection chapter” where St. Paul makes the striking assertion that: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (14). This is a remarkable statement: Christianity itself hinges on the historical reality of the resurrection of Our Lord, says St. Paul. Why was the truth of the resurrection so important to the Christian proclamation and faith? The answer largely has to do with the biblical logic that to say Jesus rose from the dead was to state he was the Messiah, and to state this was to proclaim him as king of all the world and to make known that all in his kingdom even now participate in his own resurrection.

First, the resurrection of Jesus proved that he was the Messiah (cf. Rom 1:4). Jews in the final centuries before Christ held, in various forms, that the Messiah would be a true Davidic heir, who would inaugurate the end times, which biblically means the beginning of the final age of human history, involving the renewal of creation and the resurrection of the dead (cf. Dn 12). The fact that Jesus was the first to rise from death means that by his own resurrection he has initiated the new and final age and that he is therefore the Messiah.

St. Paul connects the Christian life of grace in this new age with Christ’s resurrection. In Rom 6, he teaches: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (4-5). Note that St. Paul speaks about a resurrection of the soul first and then a resurrection of the body. The latter is to occur when Christ returns. The former, St. Paul teaches, occurs in baptism as a participation in Christ’s resurrection even in this present life.

Second, the Messiah was to reestablish Israel’s kingdom and bring the gentiles under his yoke. A Jew like St. Paul understood this, and so the main thrust of his mission was to bring the good news of Christ’s lordship to the gentiles, and this message necessarily entails the proclamation of Christ risen from the dead. But if Jesus is not risen, he is not the Messiah and neither is he king over all kings.

It is no wonder, then, that St. Paul begins the “great resurrection chapter” with a summary of the appearances of Christ to various disciples over the course of the 40 days after the first Easter to prove, by the plethora of witnesses, that Christ is indeed truly risen (1 Cor 15:1-11). The truth of St. Paul’s claim is powerfully verified by the miracles he and the other apostles performed and their own martyrdoms. The fact that they and many others of their generation died for the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection without gaining any material advantage demonstrates their veracity.

What does this mean for us? It means that Jesus is the king over all other authorities, including anything that claims influence or power over our lives. It means that even death itself does not have the final say over our lives and that we hold onto a sure hope that whatever frailties or harms assail the body will be undone when Christ returns. Since Jesus truly is the Messiah, it means that all the baptized participate in his resurrection that enlightens our minds and empowers our wills to walk in new life even now, in this vale of tears.

Montanaro is assistant professor of sacred Scripture at Christendom Graduate School of Theology in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020