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April 6, 2015

One major theological disturbance of the 20th century was the undermining of belief in Jesus' resurrection from the dead. For too many, the meaning of the resurrection is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that his life challenges Christians to live more authentically.

What matters, from this point of view, is not whether the corpse of Jesus remains in the tomb, but whether his spirit lives on in us. At the extreme end of this viewpoint, the stories of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection were just that – stories invented to give credibility to the Jesus movement, which became the Church.

Surprisingly, many purveyors of this point of view continue to show up for worship on Sunday mornings. Worship for them, one can surmise, is faith in action. They are right to assert that faith has a subjective dimension, that it involves trust in God. But if faith is not rooted in an objective reality, that trust has no foundation.

Can authenticity be based on collaboration with a lie? Does resurrection faith have any meaning if there is no bodily resurrection? St. Paul responds emphatically: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15.17, 19).

Through Christ's resurrection, we are brought not simply to personal authenticity, but formed as a new creation. The first creation is not destroyed, but transformed through the Holy Spirit.

This notion of a new creation is meaningless if Christ has not been raised from the dead, if his corpse remained in the tomb. Our faith is based, not on a good story, but on the profound re-creation of the cosmos.

Meditate on perhaps the most important verse Paul ever wrote: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8.11).

This is the basis of our hope. Because Christ was raised from the dead through the power of the Spirit, the indwelling Spirit will also give eternal life to our mortal bodies. The human body dies, but the mortal body is a seed of the incorruptible body which cannot become compost.

Christ's resurrection is the basis, not for the immortality of some ghostly "soul," but for the transformation of our mortal bodily selves into immortal bodily selves. Our current mortal body is naked in comparison with "the heavenly dwelling" in which we will one day be fully clothed (2 Corinthians 5.2-4).

Christ was raised bodily from the dead. No truth of our faith is more important. There is also no truth with greater implications for those in whom the Spirit dwells. Christ's resurrection is the foundation for our resurrection into glory, a glory that will last for eternity.