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The Saving Power of the Resurrection

General Audience — March 15, 1989

The Christian faith and the Church's preaching are rooted in Christ's resurrection because it is the definitive confirmation and culmination of revelation. One must also add that as the completion of the paschal mystery, it is the source of the saving power of the Gospel and of the Church. According to St. Paul, "by his resurrection from the dead" Jesus Christ is revealed as "Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness" (cf. Rom 1:4). He conveys this holiness to mankind, because "he was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom 4:25). There is a twofold aspect of the paschal mystery: death for liberation from sin, and resurrection to open the way to a new life.

Certainly the paschal mystery, like the whole of Christ's life and work, has a deep internal unity in its redemptive function and efficacy. This does not prevent us from distinguishing various aspects in relation to its effects for us. Hence the specific effect of "new life" is attributed to the resurrection, as St. Paul says.

In this teaching some points must be indicated which, in reference to New Testament texts, enable us to perceive all its truth and beauty. First of all, it can well be said that the risen Christ is the principle and source of new life for everyone. This appears also from Jesus' marvelous prayer on the eve of his passion, which John records in the following words: "Father...glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him" (Jn 17:1-2). In his prayer Jesus sees and embraces especially his disciples whom he had informed of his proximate painful separation through his passion and death, but to whom he had promised: "I live and you will live" (Jn 14:19). That is to say, you will share in my life which will be revealed after the resurrection. However, Jesus' glance has a universal range: "I do not pray for these only," he said, "but also for those who believe in me through their word" (Jn 17:20). All must become one by sharing in God's glory in Christ.

The new life granted to believers by virtue of Christ's resurrection consists in victory over the death caused by sin, and a sharing in the divine life of grace. St. Paul states it in a striking manner: "God, who is rich in mercy...even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive with Christ" (Eph 2:4-5). Similarly St. Peter wrote: "Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet 1:3).

This new life—life according to the spirit—manifests our adoption as sons, another Pauline concept of fundamental importance. The classic passage on this point is from the Letter to the Galatians: "God sent forth his Son...to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4:4-5). This divine adoption through the Holy Spirit makes man like to the only-begotten Son: "...all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom 8:14). In the Letter to the Galatians St. Paul appeals to the believers' experience of the new condition in which they find themselves: "...and because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Gal 4:6-7). There is then in the new man a first effect of redemption: freedom from slavery. But freedom is acquired by becoming an adopted son, not merely on a level of legal access to the inheritance, but with the real gift of divine life which the three Persons of the Trinity infuse into man (cf. Gal 4:6; 2 Cor 13:13). The source of this new life of man in God is Christ's resurrection.

Participation in the new life enables men to become brethren of Christ, as Jesus himself called the disciples after the resurrection: "Go and tell my brethren..." (Mt 28:10; cf. Jn 20:17). This means brothers not by nature, but by the gift of grace, since this adoptive sonship gives a true and real participation in the life of the only-begotten Son, who is revealed fully in his resurrection.

Finally, Christ's resurrection—rather, the risen Christ—is the principle and source of our future resurrection. When he foretold the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus referred to himself as the sacrament of eternal life and of the future resurrection: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:54). Since his hearers murmured, Jesus said to them: "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?" (Jn 6:61-62). In this way he indirectly indicated that under the sacramental species of the Eucharist, those who receive it are granted to partake of the Body and Blood of the glorified Christ.

St. Paul, too, emphasizes the connection between Christ's resurrection and ours, especially in his First Letter to the Corinthians where he writes: "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep...for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor 15:20-22). "For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory'" (1 Cor 15:53-54). "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57).

The definitive victory over death, already won by Christ, is shared by him with humanity in the measure in which it receives the fruits of redemption. It is a process of admission to the new life, to the eternal life which will last until the end of time. Thanks to this process there is being formed down the centuries a new humanity, the people of the redeemed, gathered in the Church, the true community of the resurrection. At the final moment of history all shall rise again, and those who belong to Christ will have the fullness of life in glory, in the definitive realization of the community of those redeemed by Christ, "so that God may be everything to every one" (1 Cor 15:28).

The Apostle also teaches that the redemptive process, concluding with the resurrection of the dead, will take place in a sphere of indescribable spirituality which transcends the power of human comprehension and operation. On the one hand he writes: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (1 Cor 15:50). This recognizes our natural incapacity for the new life. On the other hand, in the Letter to the Romans he thus reassures the believers: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom 8:11). It is a mysterious process of spiritualization which at the moment of the resurrection will affect also the bodies, through the power of that same Holy Spirit who brought about Christ's resurrection.

Undoubtedly it is a reality which escapes our capacity of rational understanding and demonstration. Therefore it is an object of our faith based on the word of God which, through St. Paul's teaching, enables us to penetrate the mystery which transcends all limits of space and time: "The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45). "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor 15:49).

In expectation of that final transcendent fulfillment, the risen Christ dwells in the hearts of his disciples and followers as a source of sanctification in the Holy Spirit. He is a source of divine life and divine sonship, a source of future resurrection.

This certainly leads St. Paul to say in the Letter to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Every Christian also, like the Apostle, while still living in the flesh (cf. Rom 7:5) lives a life already spiritualized through faith (cf. 2 Cor 10:3). The living Christ, the risen Christ, has become as it were the subject of all his actions: Christ lives in me (cf. Rom 8:2, 10-11; Phil 1:21; Col 3:3). It is life in the Holy Spirit.

This certainly sustained the Apostle, as it can and should sustain every Christian amid the toils and sufferings of the present life. So too Paul recommended to his disciple Timothy in a passage of one of his letters with which we wish to put the seal—for our instruction and consolation—on our reflection on Christ's resurrection: "Remember that Jesus Christ," he writes, "descended from David, was raised from the dead, as preached in my Gospel.... Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation which in Christ Jesus goes with eternal glory. The saying is sure [perhaps it was a part of a hymn of the early Christians]: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself..." (2 Tim 2:8-13).

"Remember that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead": these words of the Apostle are the key of our hope for the true life in time and in eternity.