"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and your believing is useless". So Paul affirmed in his first letter to the Corinthians some twenty-five years after the end of Jesus' life on earth. In it he emphatically declares that the statement "Christ has been raised to life" was the key teaching he gave them some eight years earlier :Ind that it was what He himself had been taught
good many years before that.
Today us then the knife edge of Christian faith k here; indeed enquiry into the authentic meaning of the resurrection is coming to take very clearly the central place in the contemporary battle oirer the integrity and significant survival of Christianity as faith. It is striking how many books and articles have been written recently on this theme; it seems as if the whole intense re-examination of Christian life and belief which has been going on for years has now reached this central point of origin, and this not just for a few academics but for very large numbers of people caught up in the catechetical renewal and the ever wider circle of concern with the theological.
What do we mean by the Resurrection of Jesus? Was it a historical event or a symbolladen myth? The difficulties about the former are undoubtedly enormous. On the one side are the obvious and very numerous inconsistencies between the narratives: Galilee or Jerusalem, one angel or two, one woman or more, and so on, One sees how the earliest references seem to add nothing or little to the "proclamation" of the resurrection; the later accounts provide long rather "materialistic" stories of an almost earthly if still mysterious Jesus sitting around, eating and so on. As the years went by, did not peoples imaginations get the better of them? and if we once admit that, can we be sure that any of the stories are historically reliable?
On the other side are the philosophical doubts: is it really conceivable that a corpse was resuscitated? Is it not all just a glorious myth, hever meant to be taken literally? The bones of Jesus are really there in the ground of Palestine.
It is of course Rudolf Bultmann, most influential of the scripture scholars of this ceniury, who would have it so: The Resurrection is the believing way of understanding Calvary. The disciples came to see in faith that this was riot the end. Jesus lives. Later they produced stories to illustrate their faith. Others sec it not so much us an interpretation of Jesus death, as a reflection upon His whole life in the light of the Old Testament and under the inspiration of the Spirit.
The apparitions and the empty tomb are either without historical foundation or were psychological consequences of an already existing belief. Many 'Christians, including Catholics, take this to be the ease. They don't Feel that this weakens the true meaning of the Resurrection al all: Jesus Christ triumphed over death and promises that we may do the same.
Many would hold such a view to be very• seriously inadequate. a grave erosion of the Easter faith, one likely to produce further ero.sion in other areas of Christian belief, and an unjustified undermining of the substantial veracity of the New testament. From a merely scholarly point of view one cannot conic to an agreed conclusion.; no one considers the evidence without philosophical presuppositions, without his own subtle sense of the limits of the possible.
At this central point of human history could God not will things to happen which are never experienced at other times? If we say no, are we in fact convinced that this was so absolutely and uniquely the central moment in history? There was nothing in the Old Testament sufficient to make the disciples believe that in some uniquely extraordinary way Jesus must rise in triumphant life soon after his death, unIc4s they experienced it, as the gospels later claimed. through a series of apparitions confirmed by the discovery of the empty tomb. Stimulating to incredulity as it will always be, it is yet the heart of our Christian belief that something happened alter His burial within historical experience that manifested Christ to he the risen Lord, the "firat fruits" of the resurrection of the dead still to come.
That general resurrection is the end of history, truly something eschatological and beyond time. But what we affirm at Easter is that in Jesus the end has already happened, has somehow been inserted within history. It is of the essence of Christian belief that it flows out from the particular, the historical and the physical; if that is true, it should he true above all of the Resurrection, thc key point of the kerygma, The details of the appearances matter relatively little: if there were many (and some of the very earliest evidence. in l Corinthians, says that there were), and people were for long reluctant lo write in detail or such emotional, intimate and unparalleled experiences. and ir their lull meaning only emerged over the years, then it is not surprising that there is confusion iri the final accounts. What they all affirm is that having died and been buried, Jesus rose on the third day and was seen by many.
What His risen body was like or where it went, we have no idea, but — accepting the corporeal nature of man — we must affirm the continuity of His risen body with His dead body, and that is not compatible with the idea that His dead body remained in the grave.
Christ's resurrection was not a historical event in the obvious sense: it was not itself reported nor observed: again, it was intrinsically not historical in a deeper sense because it precisely signifies flis entry into a state beyond history.
Yet it is historical in several important ways: first, it had immediate historical consequences — the empty tomb, the manifestations to his disciples; secondly, and still more profoundly, because in its meaning it is part of history— the establishment of the ultimate already now within the temporal order, so that it could be given a historic tense.
From the beginning the Church preached it in the past tense: "Jesus has risen". The tense implies historicity and is not to be whittled away. Christus surrexit,