The Resurrection of Christ tapestry, The Vatican Museum
Easter calls to mind brightly colored eggs, fluffy marshmallow peeps, foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies, frilly pastel dresses, and new suits with clip-on ties. These American traditions are worlds apart from the Palestinian tomb which Jesus vacated like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. It makes one wonder whether the Gospel story is even intelligible to modern hearers. Its profundity is lost in its familiarity. Most people, at least here in America, don’t doubt its truth. Rather, they miss its meaning.
Perhaps a medieval theologian can help bridge the gap between the first century and our own time. In his Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas gave five reasons for the death of Christ. First, the resurrection was necessary for divine justice, which exalts those who humble themselves for God’s sake. In the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin Mary sang, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
Second, the resurrection confirms our belief in Christ’s divinity. St. Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). The opposite is true too. If Christ has been raised, then the preaching of the apostles has meaning and so does our faith. The fact that Jesus walked out of his tomb is evidence that he is God.
Third, the resurrection gives us hope that our bodies, like Christ’s, will be raised from the dead. St. Paul explained, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrews brought an early sheaf of wheat as an offering to God, a part for the whole. The resurrection of Jesus foreshadows and promises our own at the end of the world.
Fourth, the resurrection helps us live better lives. Just as Christ rose from the dead, he calls us to live a new kind of life (Rom. 6:4). “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). The resurrection both inspires and empowers us to live good, godly lives.
Fifth, the resurrection completed the work of salvation. The death of Christ was not the end of the story, nor his burial. The death, burial, resurrection form a redemptive whole. Again, St. Paul says that Jesus “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). No resurrection, no salvation.
The resurrection of Jesus isn’t like the story of the Easter bunny, which is neither true nor meaningful. The Good News that Jesus rose from the grave is both true and meaningful. And worth celebrating!