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St. Paul and the Resurrection

Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience.

BY The Editors

November 16-22, 2008 Issue | Posted 11/11/08 at 1:30 PM

 

Weekly General Audience November 5, 2008

During his general audience on Nov. 5, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the central role of Christ’s resurrection in St. Paul’s teaching. St. Paul proclaims the vital significance of the Resurrection: In Christ, who died and rose for us, we have been saved and made righteous in the sight of God. The Resurrection reveals Jesus’ true identity as the eternal Son of God and lord of the living and the dead. We are called to become fully configured to him through our present sufferings, sharing in Christ’s suffering and death, as the hope of the Resurrection even now draws us towards the fullness of life with all the saints in his Kingdom. Like Paul, let us confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord!

Dear brothers and sisters,

“If Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith ... you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14-17).

With these powerful words from his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul helps us understand the crucial importance he attaches to Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, the solution to the problem, posed by the tragedy of the cross, is found in this event.

The cross alone would not be able to explain our Christian faith. On the contrary, it would simply remain a tragedy, a sign of the absurdity of existence. The paschal mystery consists in the fact that the crucified Christ “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4), as early Christian tradition affirmed.

This is the keystone of Paul’s Christology. Everything revolves around this center of gravity. Paul’s entire teaching always starts from and arrives at the mystery of the one whom the Father raised from the dead.

The Resurrection is a fundamental fact, almost a prior given (see 1 Corinthians 15:12), the basis on which Paul was able to concisely formulate the kerygma (synthetic message) he proclaimed: He who was crucified, thereby manifesting God’s immense love for man, has risen from the dead and is alive in our midst.


Faithful to Tradition

It is important to grasp the connection between the proclamation of the Resurrection as Paul formulated it and the proclamation that was in use in the early Christian communities before Paul. Here we can really see the importance of the tradition that preceded Paul, which he in turn, with great respect and attention, wanted to convey.

The text on the Resurrection contained in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 nicely highlights the connection between “receiving” and “handing on.”

St. Paul attached great importance to the literal formulation of this tradition. At the end of the passage cited above, he emphasizes, “Whether it be I or they, so we preach” (1 Corinthians 15:11), thereby highlighting the oneness of the kerygma, the message proclaimed to all believers and to all those who will proclaim Christ’s resurrection.

The tradition he refers to is the fount from which he draws. The originality of his Christology never undermines his faithfulness to tradition. The kerygma of the apostles always takes precedence over the way in which Paul personally re-elaborated it.

Each one of his arguments proceeds from the tradition that is common to and expressed in the faith that all the churches share — churches that are but one Church.

Thus, Paul offers a model for the ages on how to do theology and how to preach. The theologian and the preacher do not create new visions of the world and of life; rather, they are at the service of the truth that is being transmitted — the real facts about Christ, the cross and the Resurrection.

Their task is to help us understand today, behind these ancient words, the reality of “God with us” and therefore the reality of the true life.

This is a good opportunity to make clear that St. Paul, in proclaiming the Resurrection, is not concerned with presenting an organic exposition of doctrine. He did not intend to write a manual of theology. Rather, he takes on the theme as he responds to certain doubts and concrete questions that the faithful brought to him.

Therefore, his discourses were tailored to the occasion, yet they were filled with faith and with a theology that he lived out. What one finds there is a concentration on the essentials: We are “justified”; that is, we are made just, saved, by Christ who died and rose for us.


The Importance of the Resurrection

The fact that emerges, above all, is the Resurrection, without which Christian life would simply be absurd.

On that Easter morning, something new and extraordinary happened, which was, at the same time, very concrete and marked by very clear signs that numerous witnesses reported.

For Paul — as for the other authors of the New Testament — the Resurrection is linked to the testimony of those who had a direct experience of the risen Christ. It involved not only seeing and feeling with the eyes and or with the other senses, but also with an inner light that compels us to recognize what their exterior senses attest to be an objective fact.

Therefore, Paul, like the four Gospels, gives fundamental importance to Christ’s apparitions, which are a basic condition for faith in the risen Christ who left his tomb empty.

These two facts are important: The tomb was empty, and Jesus truly appeared. Thus, a chain of tradition came into being that, through the testimony of the apostles and the first disciples, has been handed down to the generations that followed, including us. The primary result — the primary way to express this testimony — was to preach the resurrection of Christ as the summary of the Gospel message and the culmination of a journey of salvation.

Paul does this on various occasions. We can consult his letters and the Acts of the Apostles, where we can see that for him the essential point was to always be a witness to the Resurrection.

I would like to quote just one text. Paul, when he was arrested in Jerusalem, stood as an accused man before the Sanhedrin. On this occasion, when life and death were at stake for him, he indicated the meaning and the content of all his preaching: “I am on trial for having hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).

Paul often repeats this refrain in his letters (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ff; 4:13-18; 5:10), where he refers to his own personal experience — his personal encounter — with the risen Christ (see Galatians 1:15-16; 1 Corinthians 9:1).


Jesus Is Lord

Yet, we may ask ourselves: What is, for Paul, the deep meaning of Jesus’ resurrection? What is he saying to us some 2,000 years later?

Is the affirmation “Christ is risen” relevant also for us?

Why is the Resurrection such a determining factor for him and for us?

Paul solemnly answers this question at the beginning of his Letter to the Romans, where he starts out by referring to “the Gospel of God ... the Gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).

Paul knows well, and says so many times, that Jesus had always been the Son of God from the moment of his incarnation.

The novelty of the Resurrection lies in the fact that Jesus, elevated from the humility of his earthly existence, was declared to be the Son of God “in power.”

Thus, the Jesus who was humiliated unto death on the cross can now say to his 11 apostles: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

Psalm 2:8 has been fulfilled: “Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth.”

That is why the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to all the nations begins with the Resurrection, and with it, begins the Kingdom of Christ — the new Kingdom that knows no other power but that of truth and love.

The Resurrection reveals once and for all the real identity and the extraordinary stature of the crucified Christ. His dignity has no comparison and is supreme: Jesus is God!

For St. Paul, Jesus’ secret identity, even more than in his incarnation, is revealed in the mystery of his resurrection. While the title of Christ, which means Messiah (anointed one), tends to be, in Paul, the proper name of Jesus, and the title of “Lord” specifies his personal relationship with believers, the title “Son of God” illustrates Jesus’ intimate relationship with God, a relationship fully revealed in the paschal event.

Thus, we can say that Jesus rose in order to be lord of the living and the dead (see Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 5:15) — in other words, our savior (see Romans 4:25).


The Theology of the Cross

All of this has important consequences for our life of faith. We are called to partake to the very depths of our being the whole experience of Christ’s death and resurrection.

“We have died with Christ,” Paul says. “We believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Romans 6:8-9).

This translates into a sharing in the suffering of Christ, which is a prelude to being fully configured to him through the Resurrection, to which we look forward with hope. This is what happened to St. Paul, who described his personal experience in his letters in a tone that was both heartfelt yet realistic: “To know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11; see 2 Timothy 2:8-12).

The theology of the cross is not some theory — it is the reality of Christian life. To live in faith in Jesus Christ, to live in truth and love, involves daily self-denial. It involves suffering.

Christianity is not a path of convenience, but rather a demanding ascent, albeit an ascent illuminated by the light of Christ and the great hope that comes from him.

St. Augustine tells us that Christians are not spared from suffering. On the contrary, a little more of it is given to them, because to live the faith is to express courage in facing life and in facing history more deeply.

Nonetheless, it is only in this way, by experiencing suffering, that we can experience life in its depths, in its beauty, and in the great hope that the crucified and risen Christ inspires in us.

Therefore, the believer finds himself between two poles: on the one hand, the Resurrection, which, in a certain way, is already present and at work in us (see Colossians 3:1-4; Ephesians 2:6), and, on the other hand, the urgent need to immerse ourselves into the process that leads everything and everyone to the fullness that is described in the Letter to the Romans with a daring image: As all creation groans and suffers in a pain akin to the pains of childbirth, so do we, too, groan in expectation of the redemption of our bodies, of our own redemption and resurrection (see Romans 8:18-23).

In summary, we can say with Paul that true believers obtain salvation by professing with their mouths that Jesus is lord and believing with their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (see Romans 10:9).

What is important, first of all, is the heart that believes in Christ and that “touches” in faith the risen Christ. However, it is not enough to carry faith within our heart. We have to profess it and witness to it with our mouth and with our life, thereby making the truth of the cross and the Resurrection present in our history.

Indeed, this is the way in which Christians become part of the process by which the first Adam, worldly and subject to corruption and death, is transformed into a new Adam, an Adam who is heavenly and incorruptible (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-22,42-49).

This process began with Christ’s resurrection, on which is founded the hope that we, too, may enter one day with Christ into our true homeland in heaven.

Sustained by this hope, let us proceed with courage and joy.

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