This is the transcript of my third talk for RTHK Radio 4 Minutes that Matter on Fridays in April.
Talk Three: Resurrection
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday is the day in the Church’s calendar when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the day when Christians believe Jesus was raised by God from the dead. This year the coronavirus has cast a shadow over the celebrations, but virus or not, church services or not, the resurrection is what gives those who follow Christ hope both for the future and in the present, no matter how bad circumstances may be. Lent with its message of self-denial and self-discipline is over. We can move on from the death of Christ and concentrate instead on the message of new life.
We are assisted in this, in the northern hemisphere at least, by the time of the year that we have now begun. March 22 was the official beginning of Spring, and nature itself is speaking to us of new life. Given what we have been through these past few months, it is a welcome relief. No wonder, then, that we want to move on.
And it is right that we want to celebrate that Christ is alive. St Paul wrote of how the announcement that Christ is alive is at the heart of the message that the Church proclaims. Without it, the Christian faith is meaningless. As St Paul put it: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.’
There is, however, a danger here. For while we, the followers of Jesus today, want to believe in the resurrection of Christ, the temptation is to believe in it without believing in the death of Christ. Of course, we have to believe in it in the sense that we believe it happened. After all, Jesus had to die to be raised, but, for many, the important thing here is that God raised him from the dead, and it is this that we focus on. It is this that gives meaning to our faith and the way we live our lives. The death of Christ becomes, then, a thing of the past that happened historically, but which is of little relevance to us in the present. What matters in the present is the new life we now have in Christ.
But not so fast! The New Testament brings us back time and time again to the death of Christ. Jesus himself made his death central to the identity of his followers by commanding them to share a Meal together, every time they meet for worship; one in which they participate in his body and blood. Graphically he said on one occasion, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ And, as if to drive the message home, he added: ‘whoever eats me will live because of me.’ St Paul writing to pagan converts tells them, ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’
But there is even more to it than benefiting from Jesus’ death and proclaiming it until he comes. Jesus’ followers are to experience his death for themselves. The Christian life begins with baptism. Baptism, however, is more than simply a ritual involving water. It is, we are told in the New Testament, a baptism into Jesus’ death. Jesus himself saw his death on the Cross as something that his followers would share and take part in and something that would define how they lived as his followers. The Cross was to be central to their identity as his followers. Again, Jesus said: ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
St Paul wrote: ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ In the chapter of the New Testament in which he writes the most about the reality of the resurrection of Christ, he tells his readers, ‘I die daily.’
In this Easter season then, the Church celebrates the resurrection of Christ: ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’ It is a message that gives us hope as we contemplate our own death and mortality. We are assured that he is with us as we seek to live for him in the present. We rejoice that we can experience his new life for ourselves.
But this hope, assurance, and joy in the life of Christ comes only to those who are willing to share in and experience his death; to those who are willing to take up their Cross and die daily as they follow him, proclaiming, as they do so, his death until he comes.