Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ has risen!

Indeed he is risen!

Here is an interesting question.  Why is Easter the greatest liturgical celebration of the year for Christians rather than Good Friday?  One might, after all, imagine someone reasoning thus: "On Good Friday we celebrate Christ's bearing our sins, and this payment of the penalty for our sin is what frees us from the debt that we cannot pay.  So the Good News is in fact the events of Good Friday, and the Easter event's main role for us is merely evidential--it is evidence of our future resurrection."  But that is not how the Church thinks.

I think there are at least three responses to this reasoning.

1. The evidential and symbolic is of great existential importance to our lives, and to celebrate the event central to the evidence of Christ's prophetic (and hence divine, given that he said things that in an Old Testament context are claims of divinity) status as the central liturgical event of the year is very appropriate.

2. This is very speculative.  One might ask: When did Christ's payment of the penalty come to a completion?  Was it when he died on Good Friday?  Or was it only after the descent into sheol?  If the latter, then the resurrection marks the completion of Christ's payment, and thus the celebration of Christ's bearing of the penalty for our sins fits well with Easter.  On the other hand, I do not think the Tradition sees Christ's descent into sheol as a part of his sufferings.  For instance, in the Odes of Solomon, the descent is present triumphantly.

3. Imagine that Christ's penalty was paid, and resurrection for us was won, but Christ did not rise again, either because he remained a disembodied soul or because the Incarnation terminated.  Then we wouldn't we have nearly as good evidence of our resurrection, as point 1 says.  But also, there would no longer be bodily communion with Christ.  Think of it from the point of view of the Apostles.  There was their friend who died.  If they rose but he did not, they might be able to commune with him spiritually, but never again in an embodied way.  The resurrection makes bodily communion with Christ possible.  This bodily communion takes place in two ways.  First, in the Eucharist.  And thus one reason for the centrality of the Easter event is that if Christ were not risen, we could not receive his present human flesh and blood.  Easter, thus, grounds the Eucharist.  Second, eventually in heaven through human fellowship.  The Easter event, works not only our individual resurrection, but our corporate resurrection as the Church, including centrally Jesus, the head.

Let us rejoice with the Apostles and Mary that he whom they loved above all creatures is risen!


Jarrett Cooper said...

Peace be with you.

Certainly, the risen Jesus gives credence to the claim that sin has been defeated. (Along with evidence that we too might be raised.)

"'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" (1 Cor 15:55)

But I think the crucial reason why Easter Sunday is the greatest liturgical celebration is because once Christ had risen, his promise had finally come to fruition.

"The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." (Lk 24:7)

So, I'd most agree with point 1.

Jonathan Livengood said...

What do you make of the passage in Romans (around 5:10), where Paul seems to contrast reconciliation to God through Christ's death and salvation through Christ's life/resurrection?

I've always thought of this as indicating that although Christ's death satisfies God's justice and makes us compatible with God's holiness, we are not really embraced again until Christ is raised. Christ's death lets us back into the garden, and Christ's death let's us eat from the tree of life again. I think this fits with Paul's remarks elsewhere to the effect that if Christ is not raised, then neither are we. But maybe I'm just reading too much into it?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe we can say--and now this is sounding very plausible to me--that our resurrection and Christ's are closely connected, not merely epistemically. He is the head and we are the rest of the body. But how this connection works--that is a mystery.

Michael Willenborg said...

I suspect that my understanding of this issue is perhaps very poor, but I thought that Roman Catholicism regards the eucharist as the sacrifice of Calvary offered in an unbloody manner, and as truly propiatory.

If that's true, then how should one understand option (2)? If the debt for sin has been completely paid, what role does the sacrifice of the Mass play in all this? Perhaps it involves the distinction between the eternal and the temporal consequences of sin?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The Mass makes the sacrifice of Calvary--which was completed by the time of the resurrection--present to us in an unbloody manner.

An event can be completed and yet in an important sense present later.

Here is an ordinary way this can happen. Jones makes a very brief but rousing announcement at noon through a loud speaker. This event is completed in two seconds. But three seconds after its completion, the event of the announcement comes to be present to listeners a mile away, because it takes about five seconds for sound to travel a mile.

And here is one extraordinary way this can happen. An event happens in AD 33, and then in AD 2011, some people time travel back to AD 33 and experience that same event.

Which is a better analogy? I don't know. Maybe neither is a very good analogy. But both cases show that there is a sense in which an event that was once completed can be "later" present to people.