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Why is it so important to Christians that we profess faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ?
There are many aspects of that reality that could be discussed, because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is right there at the very heart of our Faith. But there is an aspect that most speaks to today’s world. We’ll have to delve a bit into something of philosophy to work through this, but hopefully this delving will shed some light.
Throughout recorded human history, people have tried to answer the “death question.” What happens after we die? And most of the time we’ve settled on one of three answers. Up, Middle or Down. We either go down to some lower netherworld, or we dissolve into this earth, or we go into to a world of spirit. And whatever answer a culture or group chose would affect their views of and treatment of themselves and other human beings.
After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the preaching of the Apostles, came a unique new understanding. This understanding was a development of earlier Jewish beliefs, but understood in a uniquely Christ-centered way. The basic belief was that all three of those options are true.
Jesus went to the dead, he went into the earth, and he ascended into heaven. All three. And he has a resurrected body, rather than just being a spirit. What was “weird” for people was the idea that Jesus had a body and yet went to the spirit world at the same time. The two came together. The Christian belief is that Jesus’ resurrection was the “first fruits” of the great Resurrection of those who have faith in him. Heaven and Earth will merge together. The resurrected will have “spiritual bodies.”
They taught that some will be resurrected to “damnation.” Damnation is separation from God. Because there is a warning here of two states of resurrected being, this led to the understanding of individual human choice or conscience. This belief is important not only because it points to the future, but also because it affects us now.
As Charles Taylor points out in A Secular Age, Western Christian culture was founded on this resurrection theology, but didn’t fully understand its implications until the early middle ages. As people began to focus on the person of Jesus Christ as an individual person, they began also to see themselves and others individual persons. As they contemplated eternity with God, or apart from God, they began to see individual conscience as a reality. And as they studied nature, they began to see nature as distinct from God. Not apart from God’s presence, but as a “thing itself” to be studied.
This, of course, eventually gave rise to the sciences, democracy, and the idea that each individual is fully human and has a special dignity. It also eventually led to a world in which atheism and materialism are possible, because some people rejected God but “kept” nature.
But the beauty of resurrection theology is that it led to hospitals, psychology, and peace movements just as much as it led to worship, art, and music. It was the belief in a bodily, individual resurrection that opened up our minds to the importance of these things in an eternal way.
All of this leads to the answer to our question. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ so important to Christians today?
It is important because it is the symbol and center point of human healing, wholeness, and flourishing. The resurrection constantly points us back to the reality of our humanness as body, mind, and spirit. It vividly demonstrates the dignity of each and every human being, and the eternal nature of mankind. It calls us to care for the earth and the living creatures on it, and to care for each other. And it keeps us from dividing heaven and earth, moving toward either escapism or materialism. If you remove the resurrection from the equation, you end up having to choose once again between the ancient three options, a state of mind which paralyzed mankind for thousands of years.
When St. Paul said that we would be “of all men most foolish” if Jesus did not indeed rise from the dead, he didn’t mean just that we would have egg on our faces. Instead, he meant that all mankind would be in trouble without the resurrection. The world would not have Jesus to look to. The world transforming power of a vision of bodily, spiritual resurrection would be lost. It wouldn’t just affect Christians, but it would affect the whole human race.
Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some arcane doctrinal point that must be confessed in order to be considered a Christian. It is the very heart and soul of the Christian Faith and it affects everything.
So each Easter when we confess “Alleliua! He is Risen!” we are confessing the mystery of our Faith, and at the very same time we are affirming the eternal dignity of the human person.
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