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PRESENTATION DE L'AUTEUR

Le Révérend Frère Dieudonné MUNIA, Scj est Scolastique des prêtres du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus.

Il est né à Mpo-Etat (Bandundu), le 11 novembre 1992.

Après avoir parcouru respectivement la Propédeutique, il fait ses études philosophiques au Philosophat Edith-Stein à Kisangani.

Immédiatement après, il s'en va à Butembo (Kiragho I) pour le Noviciat.

Il fait sa première profession à Butembo, le 12 août 2016.

Après les voeux, comme Néo-profès, il fera son expérience pastorale à la paroisse Sainte Marthe de Lubunga.

Actuellement il continue ses études en deuxième année de graduat en théologie en Afrique du Sud à Pietermaritzburg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus’ Resurrection accounts: between theology and history

Experiencing resurrection in our daily life

Introduction

The proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection is the foundation of Christian faith. This is what Saint Paul acknowledges when he writes: ‘if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain’ (1 Cor 15:14). However,through the centuries Christians have always struggled to understand the account of this great mystery of faith. So, this article is a sketch of the understanding of different resurrection accounts as portrayed in the New testament. In our reflection, we will show first the understanding of resurrection in Judaism, then the peculiarity of Jesus’ resurrection; and finally, we will present the different accounts of resurrection in the New Testament, before giving their significance for the communities in which they rose and for us today.

1. Resurrection in Judaism

The Resurrection of the dead is a relatively recent belief within Judaism. It appears almost 200 years before Jesus Christ. Before that, at the time of Moses, David and the prophets, it was thought that there was no life after death. The dead were in Sheol, that is to say tomb, the place of darkness. Beyond death, there was nothing. It is here on earth that God either punishes or rewards, according to one’s conduct.
It is in the context of the apocalypse in the book of Daniel that the notion of resurrection comes out in Judaism (Perkins 1984:37). In this particular context, it appears as an answer to a serious religious crisis (Perkins 2015:122). In fact, we are here in the period of the great persecution of the Jews under King Antiochus IV. Those who showed loyalty to the Law of God were being persecuted and martyred. The situation was such that one might question the necessity of remaining faithful to God’s commandments. It is in this context that Daniel 12:1-3 makes the promise of ‘resurrection’ as everlasting life for those whose name are written in the book of God and shame and everlasting contempt to those who have done evil.

The Old Testament presents many texts where one can find the notion of resurrection. In the story of the martyrdom of seven brothers in 2 Maccabees 7, for instance, we find the following declarations: ‘You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life because we have died for his laws’ (:9); ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life’ (:14). We find similar promise of eternal life in Wisdom 2-5.
Resurrection in Judaism was frequently understood in the framework of vindication and judgment. When looking at these Old Testament texts, one realises that the idea of resurrection is generally linked with a central affirmation of the whole biblical tradition: ‘human beings are to live their lives according to the order which God has established’ (Perkins 2015:123). God blesses them when they respect his will, but he condemns them when they rebel against him. According to Perkins (1984:39), ‘The circles of the pious who were responsible for the Daniel apocalypse clearly see resurrection as the crowning vindication for their piety and fidelity’. In this sense, he notes that in the Jewish conception ‘the primary focus of resurrection language is positive’, that is to say, ‘it refers to the vindication of the righteous’ (:124). They will partake to God’s eternal glory as recompense for their righteousness.

Furthermore, in the New Testament we are presented with the controversy between the Pharisees and Sadducees about the notion of resurrection. If the first believed in a resurrection of the dead, the latter found such a notion totally absurd, especially since such an idea is not found in the Torah.
Eventually, we can conclude this section by noticing that the idea of resurrection is well rooted in Judaism. It is especially defined as everlasting life that God grants to the righteous as reward for their faithfulness to his commandments. Resurrection is the vindication of the righteous. Though actually not all Jews believed in the concept of resurrection, those who believed, however, did believe in a general resurrection of all the dead at once, at the end of time (Kinunda 2018:21). According to Joseph Ratzinger (2011:185), ‘New life was linked to the inbreaking of a new world and thus made complete sense’. ‘If there is a new world’, he argues, ‘then there is also a new mode of life there’.

2. Peculiarity of Jesus’ resurrection

As seen above, belief in resurrection was part of the Jewish tradition, a resurrection that was to occur at the end of time as vindication of the righteous. When Jesus was arrested and executed, his disciples, undoubtedly, hoped that God would raise and vindicate him at the last judgment along with all the righteous who had suffered persecution. However, a few days after Jesus’ death his disciples had an unusual experience from which they claimed that their Lord is alive. This was a real innovation in the Jewish eschatology that a single person is resurrected from the dead prior to the end of time, especially one who had died a disgraceful criminal’s death (Kinunda 2018:21). How to understand and how to explain it to others? Their reflexes were to use a very concrete vocabulary linked to the concept of resurrection: ‘he has been raised’ (Mt 28:6; 1 Cor 15:16).

It is obvious, from different accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament, that the experience of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord was difficult to translate in the common language. They were faced with a totally new reality that went far beyond their experience. Indeed, as Joseph Ratzinger (2011:184) notes it, Jesus’ resurrection was not simply a miracle of a resuscitated corpse equivalent to that of the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22-24), and Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44). These resurrections consisted of a return to ordinary life implying ipso facto a second death. In the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, we are clearly presented with something totally different. Hence the need to pay a particular attention to the testimony of Jesus’ Resurrection as reported in the New Testament. What did really Jesus’ disciples mean in announcing his resurrection?

3. The Resurrection testimonies

When hearing the news of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament we realise that it is basically portrayed in two different ways. There is the ‘confessional tradition’ and the ‘narrative tradition’ (Ratzinger 2011:188). The difference between the two traditions is that the confessional tradition simply focuses on the key facts that serve to confirm the faith, whereas the narrative tradition tries to communicate the whole scope of the resurrection experience (:198).

3.1 The confessional tradition
It is in the letters of Paul that we find the earliest evidence for Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection. This belief is confined in short formulas that tell what actually took place. These short formulas were current in the preaching, the catechesis, the liturgy, and the confession of faith of the early Christians (Brown 1973:78). Indeed, the early Christian community did not narrate, but rather used to confess Jesus’ resurrection.
One of the most important Easter formulas is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 where Paul presents an early Christian creed which relies on the witness of the first generation of Christians: ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, […] he was buried, […] he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, […] he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve’. Neither they nor Paul have given us a clear description of what their experience of the resurrection was like. Although it is not descriptive of facts, this creedal formula is very precise in its message. It does not claim merely ‘that Jesus had an immortal soul which is now resting peacefully in heaven’ (Perkins 2015:125). It affirms that after Jesus’ death, God has done something to him that has never happened to anyone else: ‘God has raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the heavenly throne’ (:126).

In this confession of faith, some important facts are to be highlighted. It first states that ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’. This affirmation provides us with the meaning that the first Christian community attached to what had happened to Jesus. His death is differentiated from the other kind of death which results from man’s original sin. Jesus’ death is to be understood in the light of the Scriptures. ‘It is a death in the context of his service of expiation- a death that achieves reconciliation and becomes a light for the nations’ (Ratzinger 2011:191). There is also in this creedal formula the affirmation that ‘he was buried’. This confession confirms that Jesus really died as any human, and that his tomb was an historical fact. The main question that arises here is to know whether Jesus body remained in the tomb or was taken up after the resurrection.

If some scholars think that the fact of the empty tomb is not a prove of the resurrection, others on the contrary notice that in Jerusalem at the time, it would have been impossible to proclaim somebody’s resurrection while his body still lied in a tomb. In other words, the empty tomb is a necessary condition for Resurrection faith in Jewish context where the emphasis was put on one’s body. Though the confessional formula of Paul does not explicitly assert the evidence of the empty tomb, this is however clearly assumed (Ratzinger 2011:192).
Moreover, it is worth noticing that in the creedal formula of 1 Corinthians 15, a reference is made to the appearances in describing the fact of Jesus’ resurrection: ‘he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve’. What does Paul mean in referring to his experience of the risen Lord in terms of appearances? According to Raymond Brown (1973:90-910, we cannot simply assert that when talking about Jesus appearing to him or to the other disciples Paul talks about a physical sight of a corporeal being.

For elsewhere he uses an alternative expression to describe the same experience of the risen Jesus in terms of God’s revelation: ‘God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me’ (Gal 1:15-16). On the other hand, the overall evidence does not favour the argument that Paul is here portraying a purely internal experience of the risen Lord. Surely, what Paul might have intended to proclaim here is that as Jesus went down in the tomb with a body, he too resurrected with a body. But Paul’s idea of Jesus body after resurrection is that of a corporeal but spiritual body. For Michael Welker (2013:121), Paul’s appearances accounts ‘raise the question of the possible continuity between the pre- and post-Easter life of Jesus’. According to Willi Marxsen (quoted by Ludemann 1994:46), ‘With the term ‘‘spiritual body’’ the identity of the earthly ‘‘I’’ is maintained; but the spiritual body eludes any imagination.’ In other words, Paul tells us that the risen Jesus he has encountered is the same who was put in the tomb. Hence, Brown (1973:92) concludes that ‘our language of space-time experience breaks down when it is used to describe the eschatological.’

3.2 The narrative tradition
The narrative accounts of the resurrection appearances are related to different traditions. Unlike the confessional formulas, the narratives do not have a binding character, but they are regarded by the Christian community as valid testimony that gives content and shape to what they believe. As Ratzinger (2011:197) notes it, the short formulas of faith in resurrection presuppose the narratives and grew out of them. They are so intimately linked to the narratives that, in one way or another, they point back to them. If there is no doubt about the fact that the short confessional formulas relied on a narrative tradition, nevertheless, a question rises about the congruence of this early narrative tradition and the one in different New Testament sources.

Indeed, in the narrative tradition one has to distinguish between the narratives of the appearance of the risen Jesus to Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, and the Gospel narratives of the encounters of the Apostles and the women with the risen Jesus (Ratzinger 2011:198). It is worthy noticing that Paul was closer to the first generation of Christians than any other evangelist. Therefore, it can be assumed that his testimony on the reality of resurrection might have referred directly to the experience of the first generation of Christians, while the evangelists, who belong to the second or third generation, might have been coping with the experience of the Living Lord within Christian communities (Brown 1973:16). But biblical studies tell us that even the narratives of Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus belong to a Christian community of the next generation, since they are part of the Lucanian tradition. Thus, a careful analysis of the foundation of these narratives seems necessary.

In fact, when reading all three accounts of Jesus’ appearance to Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, one notes that the people who accompanied him somehow had the same experience of an extraordinary event. But only Paul ‘was the direct recipient of a message involving a mission’ (Ratzinger 2011:199): ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me[…] I will rescue you […] from the Gentiles- to whom I am sending you’ (Acts 26:15-17). Jesus’ message to Paul focuses on two elements. First, his self-identification, which includes the persecuted Church; and then a mission given to the new Apostle (Ratzinger 2011:200).

In the Gospels, there are two types of narratives about the experience of resurrection: narratives of the discovery of the empty tomb by women and others, and narratives of the appearances of Jesus to his disciples (Brown 1973:97). Despite their differences with regard to the stories about Jesus’ resurrection, all four Gospels seem to point in the same direction. In fact, two aspects common to both can be pointed out. Firstly, All the Gospels do agree, through their different descriptions, on the mysterious nature of the risen Lord. This is the case in the story of the two disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), in the story of Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18), in the apparition to the disciples (Lk 24:36-37), and the apparition at the Lake of Gennesaret (Jn 21:4). As one notices in these different stories Jesus is not recognisable at first sight. The risen Jesus is presented in a ‘remarkable dialectic of identity and otherness, of real physicality and freedom from the constraints of the body’ (Ratzinger 2011:200). Secondly, the resurrections accounts in all the four Gospels end up with Jesus entrusting mission to his disciples. This leads us to look at the significance of the resurrection within the framework of the narrative tradition.

4. The meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

From the above mentioned it flows that the narrative tradition of the resurrection is basically related to the confessional tradition and complete it. However, far from being more precise than the confession formulas, the resurrection accounts, both in the Gospels and in the Acts, seem to have been enriched by the experience of the first Christian communities’ encounter with the Living Lord. In this sense, one has to understand the reality of resurrection in the narrative tradition as the experience of the real presence of Jesus in the life of the Christian community, that is, the Church.

On the basis of this biblical evidence, we can assert with Joseph Ratzinger (2011:205) that Christ’s Resurrection ‘is a historical event that nevertheless burst open the dimensions of history and transcends it’. For him, ‘Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it- a life that opens up a new dimension of human existence’ (:185). In this sense, this Resurrection ‘is not an isolated event that we could set aside as something limited to the past, but it constitutes an ‘‘evolutionary leap’’. ‘In Jesus’ Resurrection’, he argues, ‘a new possibility of human existence is attained that affects everyone and that opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind’ (:185).

Reading and believing the resurrection accounts for me today means that, somehow, I share the joy of the disciples finding their Lord, renewing with him bonds of affection. If the confession formulas help to establish the key facts of the reality of resurrection as a historical event, the narrative accounts of Jesus resurrection tell me that a personal encounter with the risen Lord is not merely a nostalgic experience lost in the past. Rather, it is a continual experience throughout history, and the risen Lord continues acting and appearing to his beloved disciples today through the sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrament. In this sense, I believe that Jesus’ appearance to Saint Marguerite is to be taken at the same level as the experience the first generation of Christians had.

5. The impact of Jesus’ Resurrection in our personal life

When considering the reality of Jesus’ resurrection today, one must ask the question of the impact of this extraordinary fact in one’s life. Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection must make a huge difference in one’s life. For me, Jesus’ resurrection constitutes a proof that I have been justified. In Romans 4:25 Paul notes that our Lord Jesus ‘raised from the dead’ and ‘was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.’ Jesus’ resurrection is the irrefutable proof of the full sufficiency of his sacrifice for my offenses. The resurrection is an indelible seal of God the Father upon the whole messianic work of the historical Jesus. Through Jesus’ resurrection and glorification, God reveals his full communion with the salvific mission of Jesus in the world.

Therefore, the reality of Jesus’ resurrection has a moral implication in my present life. Having been justified through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, I have become truly son of God. And as son of God, I am called to live a new life on the example of Jesus who is the cause of my justification before God. Saint Paul writes about this in the following terms: ‘The life that I am now living, subject to the limitation of human nature, I am living in faith, faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20). Jesus’ resurrection tells me that the kingdom of God is not something that will occur at the end of time, a mere eschatological reality; it is rather a here and now reality. Indeed, in John 14:19 Jesus says to his disciples: ‘In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see that I live and you also will live’. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul teaches ‘that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death’, and that ‘therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life’ (Rom 6:3-4). This means that as a baptised Christian, my resurrection has already occurred. The life I am living now, is a new life that partakes in Jesus’ eternal Glory.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper has tried to understand the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, which is the foundation of Christian faith. It has shown that Jesus’ resurrection was a very peculiar event in the context of Judaism, since no one before him was expected to resurrect in this way. This resurrection being so peculiar, we have tried to go deeper in the scriptures in order to unfold the meaning of such a reality for those who handed it over to us. Through this process, we have come to understand two facts about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Firstly, the experience of resurrection is basically the experience of the presence and the activity of the Glorified Christ within is Church. Secondly, it is the experience of Christians’ new life in God through one’s union with Christ in baptism. In this sense, far from being a simple experience lost in the past, the resurrection remains an actual experience that is realised in the daily life of all baptised.

Bibliography

Ratzinger, J 2011. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa.
Welker, M 2013. God the Revealed: Christology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Brown, R E 1973.The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. New York: Paulist Press.
Perkins, P 1984. Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection. New York: Doubleday & Company, INC.
Perkins, P 2015. New Testament Introduction. Mumbai: St Paul Press Training School.
Ludemann, G 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. London: SCM Press LTD.
Kinunda, Q 2018. Introduction to biblical studies: Old Testament. Cedara: SJTI. (Unpublished lecture notes).

By Brother Dieudonne MUNIA N’sele, scj


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Prêtres du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus.............................................................................................................................................................................................................février 2019
Mise à jour le 07 avril 2019