Does Jesus’ Resurrection really matter?
Question: How can I explain to others the importance of the Resurrection for us as Catholics?
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead goes to the very heart of our faith. In fact, the first proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by his followers was simply, “He is risen!” These are the words of the angel to the women at the tomb, these are the words of the Apostles to the disciples from Emmaus, and they remain the Easter greeting down to today: Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!
Recall also the words of St. Paul that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) notes, “The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ” (CCC 638). It was a real event, as indicated by the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, recounted in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles and referred to by St. Paul.
Like Jesus’ life and death, the Resurrection is neither myth nor fairy tale. It is a real, historical event—it really, truly happened. But what, exactly, is the Resurrection? There are a few points we can make to better understand this central teaching of our faith.
First, the Resurrection is not a purely spiritual reality: Jesus’ human soul and human body are really and truly reunited. In order to demonstrate this, Jesus eats fish in front of his apostles, and, even more vividly, he invites them to touch the wounds in his hands and his side. He is not a spirit or a ghost: he is flesh and blood.
But this is not merely a resuscitated Jesus either; he did not return to life the same way that Lazarus or other people who Jesus himself revived were brought back to life, for they came back in the same form of existence that they had before they died, as evidenced by the fact that they died again.
Jesus, on the other hand, was resurrected, not resuscitated. Although it was indeed the same body that returned, Jesus did not come back to the same form of existence that he had before the cross. Rather, his body was—and still is—glorified, and as such has the ability to be present how and where Jesus wills, unlimited by time or space. We see this in his appearances to the disciples. He often simply appears in their midst, even though the doors are locked, and sometimes he appears to them in such a way that they do not recognize him, often thinking Jesus is someone else.
A second point about the nature and importance of the Resurrection is this: Jesus’ resurrection acts as a confirmation of everything he did and taught. The catechism tells us, “All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority” (CCC 651). We know that everything Jesus said and did is true, because he rose from the dead, because he promised his Resurrection as the verification of his words and deeds.
This applies in a particular way to Jesus’ divinity. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus generally kept his identity hidden, not only his identity as the Messiah but also his identity as the Son of God, the Incarnate Word. But there were occasions when he, in fact, did reveal this truth, particularly in various instances wherein he applied to himself the divine name, “I AM.” These affirmations and the other more subtle hints at his divinity were confirmed and verified by the Resurrection.
Finally, Jesus’ resurrection is the fulfillment and verification not only of his own promises, which he made during his public ministry, but it is also the fulfillment of the promises made throughout the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul speaks repeatedly about how Jesus’ actions—including his Resurrection—happened “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Recall that for St. Paul, this phrase referred to the Old Testament alone, as those were the only Scriptures Paul knew; the New Testament of course was just coming into existence at the time, including the very letter in which Paul wrote these words! This highlights the fact that Paul understood Jesus’ resurrection to be the fulfillment of those promises of the Old Covenant, in addition to those promises made by Jesus himself.
Jesus’ resurrection, then, is not just a “happy ending” to his life and his ministry, it goes to the very heart of why he came: to save us from our sins and for heaven by conquering sin and death. As the ancient Easter greeting says, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!”