Sermon 8: “Risen from the Dead”

“…there are two essentially different types of tradition concerning the Resurrection” (2nd edition: p. 103 [1st edition: p. 93])

That which follows is a presentation—in a more reflective mode—what Ratzinger later published in the second volume of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. For a more expanded treatment of the “confessional tradition” and the “narrative tradition”, see 248–71 of that volume.[1]

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“…the distinguishing mark that allows the believers to recognize each other” (p. 103–104 [p. 93–94])

The words confessing the resurrection of Jesus are the new shibboleth of the Christian community. In the Book of Judges, the Gileadites would be able to tell their friends from their foes—the Ephraimites—based on whether those wishing to cross the fords of the Jordan could say shibboleth with the “sh” sound. The Ephraimites were not accustomed to making that sound and would say sibboleth instead (see Judges 12:5–6). Shibboleth allowed the Gileadites to recognize each other in a mix of people, and now the confession of Jesus’ resurrection—that he has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!—reveals to one another those who live in the light of Christ. This is the genesis of the Christian profession of faith.

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“…as Paul emphasizes, their real purpose is to hold fast the Christian kernel” (p. 104 [p. 94])

It is a remarkable thing that Paul hands on as of first importance what I also received when he communicates this “confessional tradition” (1 Cor 15:3). To Paul himself, the Risen Christ appeared (Acts 9:1–9), and Paul himself was raised up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2–4), yet he does not hand on either of these two things “as of first importance”. What he hands on is what he received because what he received is that to which all the apostles and therefore the entire Church is bound: the common proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who appeared to his chosen witnesses (1 Cor 15:3–8). This is the common treasure of the Church, a treasure that is never a private possession. This leads Ratzinger to conclude that, “The confessional tradition is really ‘the faith’ that provides the criteria for every interpretation” (94). No testimony that fails to conform to this “kernel” may be called Christian: it is “as of first importance”.

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“Jesus’ death is of a different kind. … inner dimension of the event itself” (p. 105–106 [p. 95–96])

Jesus’ suffering and death are vicarious: he suffers what is not properly his to suffer as the consequences of sin in order to bring the mercy of God to those who have lost themselves underneath the weight of sin and all its consequences, even unto death. When he dies, his death is because of sin, but not in the same way that the death of sinners is because of sin as they fall out of communication with God, who is life. The because of Jesus is hidden in the absolute power of the Father’s will to redeem and save his fallen creatures: out of obedience, Jesus heeds this will to the very end. Because sinners are in sin, the Word of God descends even to the solitary silence of the “noncommunication zone”, as Ratzinger describes the place of the dead in Eschatology. Jesus—the Suffering Servant—suffers what those he serves suffer in order to free them from what they suffer. In the isolation of their sin, he brings communion. Or, in Paul’s eloquent terseness in keeping with the confessional tradition, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3).

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“’He was buried’” (p. 106 [p. 96])

This paragraph—as elsewhere in Ratzinger’s writings—reads like a form of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday that one may share confidently in polite company, without concern for offending those with sensitive ears. There is a sharpness to the speculative character of Balthasar’s thought that Ratzinger smooths out, allowing some of the aspects that lead to controversy in Balthasar’s articulations to pass away.

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“…he shows himself to the senses, yet he can only make use of senses that see beyond what can be perceived by the senses” (p. 108 [p. 98])

An example from the “narrative tradition” is helpful here to highlight Ratzinger’s point. In Luke 24:13–35, which recounts the journey of the two on their way to Emmaus, we read that even though Jesus walks with them and converses with them, their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:16). Notice that it is not Jesus who is hiding from them but rather their eyes that render them incapable of seeing him for who he is. Why is that? It doesn’t seem to be for lack of information, for they seem to know quite a lot, actually: they confess to having known Jesus, they believed him to be a prophet, they know he was condemned and crucified, they know that the tomb was found empty, they know that some women received a vision of angels proclaiming him to be alive, and they know that others from their group went to confirm the women’s testimony. So why didn’t they see him? Perhaps it has something to do with their hope—or, more specifically, the tense in which their hope is conjugated: But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). Their hope is in the past tense. It seems that their eyes cannot perceive him because they are locked in to their own ideas of who the Messiah is, and on that account Jesus failed to live up to what they had hoped for. They have constructed criteria for God rather than allowing God to establish his own criterion (see again 33). In this sense, they cannot see what they are unwilling to see: God who works in their midst well beyond the borders of their self-generated understanding. So what does Jesus do to heal them of their blindness: he silences them (v. 25), he corrects their understanding of power and shows them that the power and glory of God is disclosed in the willingness to suffer in love (v. 26), and he reteaches them Scripture according to who he is and not who they thought the Messiah would be (v. 25). In the end, he gives them their daily bread, which is now his sacrifice, his body (v. 30). They not only see (v. 31), but they also remember and understand (v. 32), and they preach (vv. 33–35). He rebuilds them through their eyes, their ears, their mouths, and, ultimately, their hearts in order to see him for who he is and to confess him on his terms.

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“…but not to corruption” (p. 109 [p. 99])

There is a delicate and perhaps we can even say “divine” balance here in these three days. On the first day, Jesus is placed in the tomb; for the entirety of the second day, his lifeless body remains in the tomb in the state of being dead; and on the third day he is raised. Without the second day, it would be difficult to attest that Jesus was really dead, that he really lay lifeless as did all those who had died before him beginning with Adam. But had he remained in death past the third day, corruption would have set in according to Jewish wisdom. And so the raising on the third day is fitting and revelatory at the same time, for the Son of God enters into the furthest limit of creaturely separation from God—the state of being dead—but death does not ultimately have power over him so as to begin to undo the one who was begotten of the Father and given flesh in the womb of Mary. He fulfills his own words: What God has joined together, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9; cf. Gen 2:23–24). The marital union of man and wife is an image of this hypostatic union of the Word-made-flesh, which not only man but even death is rendered powerless to separate.

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