Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday, 2012: Why the Resurrection is Essential

"Christ the Lord is Risen Today"

I have friends in liberal protestant denominations who believe that the resurrection did not occur and is not really essential for Christian faith. In one memorable conversation, a friend was relating a conversation he had with one of the women in his church. He posed a hypothetical question to her: If it could somehow be proved definitively, that Jesus did not rise from the dead, by DNA evidence, or some other way, what difference would it make to your religious beliefs?

She answered she'd be heartbroken. That she'd never enter a church again.

He thought that this was a very fundamentalist view, the reaction of an unsophisticated person. For him, Jesus was primarily a moral teacher, and the resurrection was a metaphor. He felt that she was naive in believing otherwise, and obviously expected me to be smarter and to agree with him. I said that I was with the woman completely. That if I became convinced the resurrection was a myth, I would be broken hearted, and I would never go into a Christian church again. 

He was surprised. It wasn't what Jesus did that was important, it was where your own heart was.

If you believe that, I said, isn't saying the Nicene Creed, and going through the Eucharist, all dress-up and make believe? Why do it? Why not join the Rotary? Do good deeds without the superstitious trappings?

St. Paul knew what was at stake and confronted the problem early on, and he addresses it in 1 Corinthians 15: 12 - 19:

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ those have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Most to be pitied because we've gotten it all wrong. Most to be pitied because we've constructed a fool's paradise. Certainly the first Christians did not see the resurrection as a metaphor, and they were closer to the events of Jesus' death than we are. Martyrs do not die for metaphors. They die for what they are convinced is the truth, as did Paul, Peter, and probably the rest of the apostles but for John. That is convincing testimony, as is the success of the Church, against all odds, but prophesied, nevertheless, in Acts.

John Updike, in his great poem, "Seven Stanzas at Easter," understands exactly why the resurrection cannot be metaphorical in a real Christianity:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Indeed, let us not mock God with metaphor. Let's allow ourselves to be embarrassed by the miracle. The resurrection, in reality, is the driving force of Christian charity and courage. It gives us joy and makes demands on us. Our joy in the resurrection makes us want to share love with the rest of the world; that joy propels saints like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Maximillian Kolbe, and John Henry Newman, through lives that are often full of suffering. Joy propels our charity. 
Though the Catholic Church argues that the existence of God is a logical certainty, it does not make that claim with regard to the resurrection of Jesus, though it does argue there are good reasons to believe in the resurrection: the New Testament witness, the existence of the Church itself, the personal experience of the living Christ, and if that experience is weak in us, then by the example of the saints--people transformed into what human beings ought to be. We know Christ through the Church, in the Eucharist, through the Unity of the Holy Spirit, in moments of prayer.  
Without the resurrection, it's all dress-up and make-believe. But finally, we know deep down that it's not dress-up and make believe. In some ways, make-believe would be a relief. We could expect so little of ourselves. But its for real.

1 comment:

  1. Father Barron's YouTube Video, uploaded today, makes a similar point.