On the Significance of Christ's Resurrection

“God Reveals Himself and the Power of the Trinitarian Love”

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, APRIL 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Wednesday at the general audience in the pontifical residence at Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the customary Wednesday general audience is pervaded by a spiritual joy, that joy that no suffering or pain can destroy, because it is the joy that flows from the certainty that Christ, with his death and resurrection, has definitively triumphed over evil and death. “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” the Church sings in celebration. And this festive climate, these typical Easter sentiments, are prolonged not only during this week — the Octave of Easter — but extend through the 50 days until Pentecost. Indeed, we can say: the Easter mystery embraces the whole arc of our existence.

During this liturgical season there are truly many biblical references and stimulations to meditation that are offered to us to delve into the meaning and value of Easter. The “Via Crucis” [Way of the Cross], that in the Holy Triduum we traveled again with Jesus to Calvary reliving the sorrowful passion, becomes the consoling “Via Lucis” [Way of Light] in the solemn Easter Vigil. Seen from the perspective of the resurrection, we can say that this whole way of suffering is the road of light and spiritual rebirth, of interior peace and solid hope. After the weeping, after being lost on Good Friday, followed by the silence of Holy Saturday, charged with expectation, to the dawn of “the first day after the Sabbath” there resounded the proclamation of the life that has defeated death: “Dux vitae mortuus / regnat vivus!” — “The Lord of life was dead / but now, living, he triumphs!” The unsettling novelty of the resurrection is so important that the Church does not cease to proclaim it, prolonging the recollection especially every Sunday: every Sunday, in fact, is “the Lord’s day” and the weekly Easter of the people of God. Our Eastern brothers, highlighting this mystery of salvation that invests our daily Christian life, in the Russian language, call Sunday “Resurrection day” (voskrescénje).

Thus it is fundamental to our Christian faith and witness to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a real historical event testified to by many authoritative witnesses. We strongly affirm this because, even in our times, there is no lack of those who deny its historicity, reducing the Gospel account to a myth, to a “vision” of the Apostles, taking up again and presenting old worn-out theories as new and scientific. Certainly for Jesus the resurrection was not a mere return to the former life. In this case, in fact, it would be a thing of the past: 2,000 years ago someone rose from the dead, returned to his old life, just as Lazarus did, for example. The resurrection is oriented in another direction; it is the passage to a dimension of life that is profoundly new, that also implicates us, that involves the whole of the human family, of history and of the universe.

This event that introduced a new dimension of life, an openness of our world to eternal life, changed the existence of the eyewitnesses as the evangelical accounts and the other New Testament writings demonstrate; it is an announcement that entire generations of men and women through the centuries welcomed with faith and often bore witness to at the price of their blood, knowing that precisely in this way they entered into this new dimension of life. This year too, at Easter there resounds unchanged and always new, in every corner of the earth, this good news: Jesus, who has died on the cross and been resurrected, lives in glory because he has defeated the power of death, he has brought human beings into a new communion of life with and in God. This is the victory of Easter, our salvation! And so we can sing with St. Augustine: “Christ’s resurrection is our hope,” because he leads us into a new future.

It is true: Jesus’ resurrection founds our certain hope and illuminates the whole of our earthly pilgrimage, including the human enigma of pain and death. The faith in Christ crucified and risen is the heart of the whole evangelical message, the central nucleus of our “credo.” Of such an essential “credo” we can find an authoritative expression in a famous passage in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (15:3-8), where the Apostle, responding to some of the members of the community at Corinth who paradoxically proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection but denied that of the dead — our hope — faithfully transmits that which he — Paul — had received from the first apostolic community about the death and resurrection of the Lord.

He begins with an almost parenthetical remark: “Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain!” (15:1-2). He immediately adds that he has passed on to them what he himself had received. Then the pericope follows that we listened to at the beginning of our meeting. St. Paul first of all presents the death of Jesus and then, in a very simple text, makes two additions to the news that “Christ died.” The first addition is: he died “for our sins”; the second is: “according to the Scriptures” (15:3). This expression, “according to the Scriptures,” puts the event of the Lord’s death in relation to the history of the Old Testament covenant of God with his people, and he makes us understand that the death of the Son of God belongs to the fabric of the history of salvation, and indeed makes us understand that this history receives its logic and meaning from this death.

Until that moment Christ’s death remained almost an enigma, whose outcome was still uncertain. In the Pascal mystery the words of Scripture are fulfilled, that is, this death realized “according to the Scriptures” is an event that carries a “logos” in itself, a logic: Christ’s death testifies that the Word of God became human “flesh,” human “history,” without reserve. How and why this happened, we understand from the other addition Paul makes: Christ died “for our sins.” With these words the Pauline text takes up the prophecy of Isaiah contained in the fourth song of the Servant of God (cf. Isaiah 53:12). The Servant of God — the song says — “surrendered himself to death,” bore “the sins of the world,” and interceding for the “guilty” was able to bring the gift of reconciliation among men and between men and God: his is a death therefore that puts an end to death; the way of the cross leads to the resurrection.

In the verses that follow, the Apostle pauses over the Lord’s resurrection. He says that Christ “rose on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Again: “according to the Scriptures!” Not a few exegetes see in the expression “[he] rose on the third day according to the Scriptures” a significant reference to Psalm 16, where the Psalmist proclaims: “You will not abandon me in the netherworld, nor let his faithful one undergo corruption” (16:10). This is one of the texts of the Old Testament that was cited by early Christians to prove Jesus’ messianic character. Since, according to the understanding of Judaism, corruption began after the third day, the word of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus who rises on the third day, that is, before corruption set in. St. Paul, faithfully transmitting the doctrine of the Apostles, stresses that the victory of Christ over death happens through the creative power of God’s Word. This divine power brings hope and joy: this is the definitive liberating content of the Easter revelation. God reveals himself and the power of the trinitarian love that annihilates the destructive forces of evil and death in the events of Easter.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be enlightened by the splendor of the risen Lord. Let us welcome him with faith and adhere generously to his Gospel, as did the first privileged witnesses of the resurrection; as St. Paul di
d, some years later, encountering the divine Master in an extraordinary way on the road to Damascus. We cannot just hold onto the proclamation of this truth — which changes the life of everyone — only for ourselves. And with humble confidence let us pray: “Jesus, who, rising from the dead, anticipated our resurrection, we believe in you!” I would like to conclude with an exclamation that Silvanus of Mount Athos loved to repeat: “Rejoice, my soul. It is always Easter, because the risen Christ is our resurrection!” May the Virgin Mary help us cultivate in ourselves, and around us, this climate of Easter joy, so that we may be witnesses of divine love in every situation of our existence. Once again, a happy Easter to all of you!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic] [The Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s general audience takes place at the beginning of the liturgical season of Easter, the joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Easter sequence sings the victory of the Lord of life who, after a heroic struggle with death, now lives triumphant. After the Via Crucis of Good Friday, our solemn Easter Vigil sets us on a Via Lucis marked by consolation, peace and hope. It is fundamental for our faith and our Christian witness that we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a real, historical event. His resurrection was not a simple return to existence, but an entrance into a new dimension of life meant to transform every human being, all history and the whole cosmos. Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians, reminded them of what was transmitted from the beginning, namely that Christ died and rose from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures. As the Suffering Servant of God, Jesus purified us from our guilt by carrying our sins and interceding for us. By dying he put an end to death, and by rising he brought new life to the world. May the joy of the resurrection of Christ give us courage to live his Gospel faithfully and bear witness to it generously!

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s audience. I extend particular greetings to the groups from England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Malta, Australia, Indonesia, Canada and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage to the Eternal City strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord, the Giver of Life. I wish all of you a happy Easter!

© Copyright 2009 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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