There was one time in the New Testament when the Faith was spoken of as "worthless"--and that is the actual word that was used: "worthless." When is Christianity worthless? Listen:
If Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless (1 Cor 15:14).
What the first Christians were told was devastating in its directness and simplicity: "Unless you believe the Lord burst out of the tomb, you have nothing at all to believe in."
If you ever meet someone who says: "I believe in Humanity!" or "I believe in Brotherhood!" or "I believe in Equality!" "I believe in making the world a better place to live in ... that is my religion," say to him: "That is a very beautiful religion. I do hope that some day it does not blow up in your face."
How would it blow up in your face? Very simply. If someday the doctor sits across from you, clears his throat and says: "I am very sorry to have to tell you this, BUT...." Or, if one day your son goes on drugs and in a frenzy kills somebody. Or, if in a moment of weakness you are unfaithful and your marriage disintegrates. Or, if you are treated with great injustice in your place of work; somebody intrigues to get your job--and succeeds. Or, if a thief breaks into your house and not merely robs you but injures someone you love. Or, if some day you stand at a grave and you come home to a house that is terribly empty--that is when a religion of slogans blows up. Slogans will not do. Man was not built for slogans but to rise from the dead and blaze with glory at the end of time. There is only one way to that splendor and that is, while you are in the body of the present time--note how that is put: the-body-of-the- present-time, you have little pin-pricks of what Gethsemane means when, as the Gospels tell us about the Lord, "He began to be depressed and exceedingly afraid." Or you know what it is to meet Judas: "Judas, for what a purpose you have come?" Or you understand what it is to be condemned by Pilate or howled down by the mob. Crisis is the instrument that God takes to make us ready for glory. That is why a religion of slogans will never do.
I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.
That is how we end the Creed. We proclaim our belief and our hope in the resurrection of the body--the body, mark well. What you have now--the animated organism you call your body that is so deeply a part of you you think your body is you--that is only the shell, the framework, the seed of the real body that will enshrine the real you when the grace that came to you in baptism bursts into your resurrection. All of this the first Christians were told. We could almost say that this is how they were given the Faith: by repeated insistence on their identification with Christ in a union so close that what happened to His body must therefore happen in theirs--the identification between Jesus Christ and His members was that close. Here are typical lines in the Letters that were written to them:
If there is a natural body, be sure there is also a spiritual body. Scripture has it that Adam, the first man, became a living soul; the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit. Take note, the spiritual was not first; first came the natural and after that the spiritual. The first man was of earth, formed from dust, the second is from heaven. Earthly men are like the man of earth, heavenly men are like the man of heaven. Just as we resemble the man from earth, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Cor 15: 44-49).
The moral imperatives of Christian life--and they were stringent--flowed from here.
As for lewd conduct or promiscuousness or lust of any sort, let them not even be mentioned among you; your holiness forbids this. Nor should there be any obscene, silly, or suggestive talk; all that is out of place. Instead, give thanks. Make no mistake about this: no fornicator, no unclean or lustful person--in effect an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with worthless arguments. These are sins that bring God's wrath down on the disobedient; therefore have nothing to do with them (Eph 5:3-7).
Christianity is a very bodily religion, if I may use such an earthy term to speak of religion. Our Faith gives enormous importance to the physical. To give a new emphasis to an outworn phrase, we are a down-to-earth People and that is precisely the imagery that was used in the first days of the Faith: "In baptism you were not only buried with him but also raised to life with him" (Col 2: 12).
There are three reasons why the Resurrection is the heart of our Faith. The first is that the Lord of Glory--Jesus Christ risen from the dead--is the power house from which he sends out a Force that enters into the core of your being to make you the person He means you to be. We call this Force flowing down from the powerhouse of the resurrection: the grace of God. They did not have the powerhouses in Our Lord's time so He put this revelation in much simpler--and more beautiful--terms.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from me you can do nothing. A man who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt. If you live in me, and my words stay part of you, you may ask what you will--it will be done for you. My Father has been glorified in your bearing much fruit and becoming my disciples (John 15:5-8).
To be a Christian is to live with the life of a Man who is God. Do not think of Christianity as doing something but in being someone: a human caught up into the Life of a Man who burst out of a tomb filled with a Force, a Power that was divine, that He now passes on to us. We were linked with the powerhouse of Jesus Christ when we were baptized. This is Christianity: our share in the Risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord which we carry under the shell of our human nature that is destined to be transformed in glory. The New Christians of Colossae were told the same truth. They were given the same exhortation that we are given now.
Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God's right hand. Be intent on things above rather than on things of earth. After all, you have died! Your life is hidden now with Christ in God. When Christ our life appears, then you shall appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).
It is no small privilege to belong to this Church. We are the chosen-and-called-and-Christ-Engrafted People for this is how the New Testament describes us; this is what we are: the members of His Body. It is a terrifying loss--it is a fearsome tragedy--to lose sight of the enormous dignity of this call that came to us and that did not come to others.
Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple (1 Cor 3:16-17).
By grace we pulsate in the life of Jesus Christ risen from the dead and we are slowly transformed so that (I speak of the ideal) we become all that the Lord means us to be. It is grace that makes the ultimate difference between persons.
The difference between persons is not so much in what they do as what they are, and what we are depends on what is in the inmost core of our being. It is to that core that the grace of God must come. Before a saint is canonized there is a long investigation. What the Church is looking for is clear evidence that this man, this woman was touched and transformed by grace in his inmost heart so that there is a beautiful font of goodness, of dedication, of integrity flowing through the whole being. This is sanctity: to be touched and transformed by the Holy Spirit. This, too, is what the first Christians were taught:
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out, "Abba!" (that is "Father"). The Spirit himself gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God. But if we are children, we are heirs as well: heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so as to be glorified with him. (Romans 8: 14-17)
When you receive the Lord in Holy Communion make a special effort to bring into focus what the words you hear mean. The priest says over you, "The Body of Christ!"
He is proclaiming: "The Lord Risen from the dead and filled with the glory of Resurrection now comes to you under what looks like bread. He comes to draw you into union with Himself. He comes to breathe His life into you, to touch you at the core of your being. He comes to make you ready for the glory that He means you to have. Body of Christ!"
You respond: "Amen."
You are saying: "I believe! Help me do your Will! Come into me as my Guest and Friend. Amen."
This is the Mass. This is what the Mass is for: to make us ready for our resurrection. Every seven days the Lord calls us to go to another rehearsal for our rising from the dead and this is the first reason why the Resurrection is the heart of the Faith.
The second reason: If we do not believe in another life after life-in-this-body it is difficult to see why we should be honest or dedicated or kind when it is extremely inconvenient to act that way. An atheist may be an honest man, but if he is, this is not because of his atheism--it is in spite of it.
If we do not believe in life after life in the body the only thing left is that hole in the ground. If you have a world filled with people who have nothing to look forward to beyond that hole, some of them will be consistent and they will act out the nihilism in their souls. In that kind of world you can expect to be mugged; you can expect to be beaten; you can expect to be raped and cheated and killed because there is nothing good or bad beyond what every man feels. This is how civilizations die. They die of a secularism that has begun to rot into hedonism where the mass of man live only to satisfy themselves and from that they are easily manipulated by those who control their media and turn and twist their minds and wills.
There is a third reason why the Resurrection makes such a difference. This reason was given by the Lord Himself on the first Easter Sunday. The disciples were all huddled together in another room. The Gospel tells us that "the doors were locked ... for fear." There they are expecting that at any minute their enemies would find them, drag them out to flog them or, possibly, crucify them as well. Suddenly the Lord came right through the closed doors and stood in front of them. It must have been a tremendous moment. They must have gaped at Him, their mouths open and their eyes bulging out. A dead silence filled the room until, at last, He spoke. He gave the third reason why the Resurrection is central. He said, "Why are you disturbed? Why do these ideas cross your mind? See, it is I, I Myself."
This is what the Lord says to you and to me.
"You are a cell in My Body. You are linked to me as closely as your hands and feet are part of you. You will share in the same glory that I have. Yet when something bad happens to you, or what you think is bad, you start going to pieces. Why do you act this way? Do you not believe that life in the this earthly body is only a passing thing? This is not your real life. Do you not believe that everything painful that happens to you had to pass by Me before it got to you?"
"Why are you disturbed? Why do these ideas cross your mind? See it is I, I Myself."
These are the three reasons why the rising of the Lord from the dead is the heart of our Faith. All through the letters that were written to the first Christians that is what they were told. That is what they heard over and over again.
If Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins. And, those who have fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men.
Abridged from Rev. Patrick J. McHugh, In Season, Out of Season: Meditations on the Sunday Gospels and Second Readings, Liturgical Cycle C, Easter Sunday.