He is truly risen

  • April 19, 2011
What actually happened on that first Easter Sunday?

Every Easter, millions of Christians worldwide celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. They rejoice at the Scripture passages that recount the Risen Lord appearing first to Mary Magdalene and later to His disciples. The story is so familiar, so central to our faith, that even casual church-goers can almost recount it by rote. But what really happened that day?

In Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth — Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Christians have been given an Easter present to help them explore that question. The final chapter of Benedict’s book is a profound historical examination of the Resurrection. On the matter of that first Easter, he ponders: What is the Resurrection of Jesus?

The question is fundamental to Christianity. As Benedict writes, “The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead. . . . Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind.”

It is important to acknowledge, writes Benedict, that  Christ’s Resurrection is much more than the type of miraculous recovery in which doctors resuscitate someone who is clinically dead for several minutes, or much more than even the miracle of Lazarus. In those cases, the revived people remain human and eventually die.

Jesus did not return that way. He rose from the dead as an entirely new form of life, said Benedict, one incapable of dying. Instead, He “opens up a new dimension” of human experience that is utterly different from anything before or since.

“In Jesus’ Resurrection a new possibility of human existence is attained which affects everyone and opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind,” writes Benedict. “He has entered upon a different life, a new life — He has entered the vast breadth of God Himself.” What the disciples encountered at the Resurrection, said Benedict, was a Jesus  who was no longer of their world yet still truly present there. He rose from the dead as much more than a man come back to life; the man Jesus had become divine and eternal.

Encountering this unimaginable being, this Risen Christ, fueled a “boldness and passion” in the preaching of the disciples that Benedict says would have otherwise been unthinkable. Only a profound event of a “radically new quality” could have given rise to such confidence and courage, he writes.

It was precisely because the disciples could not fathom the Resurrection — “it was such an overwhelmingly real happening confronting them so powerfully” — that their faith was emboldened and they emerged fearless to bear witness to the world of Easter’s eternal truth: Christ is truly risen!

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