Sunday, April 4, 2010
The meaning of the Resurrection
As with Christ’s Passion, people are always trying to attach to His Resurrection various counterfeit meanings. But it is, in this case, harder to do it with a straight face. Were you present at the crucifixion, you would have seen what on the surface required no supernatural explanation – a man nailed to a cross, as so many had been before by the Romans. Were you present at Christ’s tomb on that first Easter Sunday, you would have seen a corpse returned to life. “Keep hope alive!” “Jesus is still with us in our hearts!”“You can’t keep a good man down!” and all the other banalities liberal pastors will waste their congregations’ time with today rather fail to convey this central fact about the Resurrection. It was a divine suspension of the natural order, a miracle, or it was nothing. “If Christ is not raised,” St. Paul tells the Christian, “your faith is worthless.” And by “raised” he meant raised – reanimated, brought back from the dead – not eaten by wild dogs but remembered fondly, or whatever it is the John Dominic Crossans of the world want to put in place of what Christianity has always claimed. The Christian faith has, historically, laid everything on that line: Accept the Resurrection, and you must accept what Jesus Christ taught; reject it, and you must reject Him too as a fraud.
Thus, while the Resurrection is an affront to naturalism, it is not primarily that. The most formidable pagan critics of Christianity already knew that naturalism is false. Indeed, almost all serious philosophers historically have known that; it was part of the common ground most of them took for granted in their disputes over less fundamental matters. (The atomists are an obvious exception, though their naturalism was less crude and less dogmatic than that of their modern successors.) In particular, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul were known by Neo-Platonists and others to be demonstrable through philosophical arguments; and such demonstrations ought in any event to form the preamble to an apologetic for the Resurrection, rather than its sequel (or so I would argue).
No, the Resurrection is primarily an affront to the religious rivals of Christianity. It is the point where the tedium of “dialogue” finally ends and the serious business of conversion begins. The Man Who said “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” was either raised from the dead or He was not. If He was, then His startling claims received thereby a divine seal of approval, and the only rational response of the non-Christian can be to request baptism. If He was not so raised, then His words reveal Him to have been a megalomaniacal lunatic. An interesting lunatic, maybe; a lunatic whose historical, cultural, religious, and moral impact has vastly – one might say miraculously – outweighed that of any sane man. But a lunatic all the same, and appropriately treated as such. There really is no third option. (Even C. S. Lewis’s “liar” alternative isn’t all that plausible – what sane first-century Jew would think claiming personal divinity a good way to raise a following? And the “guru” Jesus pushed by Crossan and his ilk is manifestly sheer unhistorical fantasy.)
The Resurrected Christ will not be dialogued with. He will be worshipped, and obeyed, or He will simply be rejected as one would reject the ravings of a Jim Jones or David Koresh. Politely rejected, perhaps, at least this side of the grave; we can concede to the dialoguers their good manners. But rejected, and in no uncertain terms. “Let your Yes be Yes and your No, No.” Unless you are prepared to call Him your Risen Lord, seek no religious meaning in His life and teachings. Nor in His death; for the Passion is what it is only in light of the Resurrection. If we who did not know Him in the flesh worship at the foot of His cross, it is because we have worshipped first at His empty tomb.