Why did Christ have to die, if God afterwards resurrected him? In asking this question the early communities had not yet realised the actual saving character of the death of Jesus, that it is an integral and necessary part of salvation, and not just an unfortunate event. There were many attempts to answer this question. All interpretations were unanimous in saying that Jesus did not die because of his own sins or guilt.
The fact of Christ’s death was determined by hatred and ill-will. But Jesus did not allow himself to be determined by the priorities of others: they hated him, he did not hate them in return. He died alone so that no one else need ever do that again: whenever isolation and injustice is thrust upon people, they are in a place already visited by God, one which is part of God’s experience. If Jesus is to set us free from whatever binds us, he must set us free from death. As he redeemed life by living, so he redeemed death by dying. He died in the manner in which we must die. He chose neither the time nor the circumstances of his death.
Because of the universal rejection of Jesus and the dismissing of the call to become Kingdom, which is meant to have cosmic dimensions, it could only now be realised in a single person, Jesus of Nazareth. This means that a path was opened up for the church, this is when the church became necessary, since the offer brought by Jesus must persist for all time and must be made in the same way, through a quality of presence which matches that of Jesus and, little by little, to universalise the Kingdom. As well as furthering the call of Christ, the church is obliged to make the values of Jesus present wherever the church is present: mission and evangelisation are entirely about experiencing life as abundant.
Above all the Resurrection ensures that true religion is not nostalgia. It celebrates a present emerging from a past enroute to a wonderful future; a future able to be anticipated in many ways in the present. The Resurrection represents the total realisation of human potential: capable, through grace, of intimacy within God.
What will Resurrection mean? Paul answers: the dead will rise up, imperishable, glorious and powerful, in a human reality filled full with the Spirit of God. The human body, as it is now, cannot inherit the Kingdom. It must be changed; “to have what must die taken up into life“. When Paul speaks of “body” he does not mean a corpse, or a physical-chemical combination of cells, he is speaking of the consciousness of human matter, or the spirit manifesting and realising itself within the world. The Resurrection transforms what we mean by our corporal-spiritual “I” into the image of Christ.
Already, in its terrestrial situation the human being-body is a giving and a receiving of giving. It is the body that allows us to be present one to another. But as well as enabling communication it also gets in the way of it. We cannot be in two places at once, and communication uses codes that can often be ambiguous and misleading. All such impediments disappear in the Resurrection, when there will be total communication with persons and things; the human being, now a spiritual body will have a cosmic presence. The object of Resurrection is the human being as body, totally transfigured open to universal communion and communication.
By faith and hope, commitment to Jesus Christ, welcoming and celebrating the sacraments, the seed of Resurrection [the real presence of Christ] is present within the human body, and it is not lost in death: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life“. To be clothed with Christ is to be made new. Being in Christ is the start of Resurrected living, and death is a form of being in Christ. Just as death is a passage to eternity where there is no time, so too complete communication will be realised, with the setting free of all that is fully human. The corpse will stay behind, our true body – characterised by “I” [something much more than physical-chemical matter] will participate in eternal life:
…we do not know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away. But we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth… The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but stimulate our concern for developing this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age… On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower – Gaudium et Spes 39
Thank you Austin, I’ve enjoyed revisiting these while preparing them for publication. I shall return to Part II of Jesus Beyond Dogma in a couple of months’ time.