Every Sunday Catholics through the world along with a number of other Christians solemnly professes the venerable words of the Nicene Creed: “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
That the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of Scripture was a belief in circulation long before the 4th century fathers composed their profession of faith summarizing the decrees of the Council at Nicea. St. Paul in his first epistle to the people of Corinth is clearly quoting an ancient credal formula when he writes, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” The sufferings of Christ are fairly easily discovered among the Old Testament’s many books. Isaiah and Jeremiah and the psalmist predict with stunning accuracy the general rejection of Christ as Messiah as well as the particular miseries of his last days.
Old Testament arguments for the resurrection, however, are somewhat vague and generic, more apt to confirm an already held belief rather than generate a new belief. St. Peter, a witness to the risen Christ, quotes Psalm 16 in proposing the resurrection before the crowds: “you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.” The prophet Hosea alludes to some sort of renewal when he writes, “He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence.” The tale of the reluctant Jonah hints at a similar renewal: “But the LORD sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Surely Christianity’s twenty centuries of belief in the resurrection is based on more substantial evidence than these oblique comments!
According to St. Luke, Jesus himself employed the Old Testament as a means of bringing his followers into a deeper understanding of his death and his resurrection. The evangelist writes, “He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…”
Still it should be carefully noted that Jesus along with St. Luke and St. Paul and St. Peter do not employ the Scriptures to generate belief but rather to confirm belief. The disciples witnessed Jesus Christ firsthand after his resurrection. He appeared to them. He preached to them. He ate with them. He offered his wounded limbs to them as proof. He even scolded them. Faith in any generation is born from a similar personal encounter with the risen Christ. Pope Francis often quotes his predecessor Pope Benedict who wrote: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
For later believers, the Risen Christ is encountered within the community of his Church. The lives of the saints, the teachings of Church Fathers, the preaching of parish priests, the instruction of religious teachers, the example of fellow worshippers, the celebration of the sacraments, the life of the larger Church, as well as the Scriptures, can certainly offer the believer an experience of the risen Christ. Along with these, the quiet example of a practicing Catholic family life cannot be underrated. Parents are “the first teachers of their children in the way of faith,” as the present baptismal ceremony wisely observes. And parents become “the best of teachers” by “bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do.” The domestic church, the home, is the primary meeting place between the Risen Christ and the Christian believer. Regular Mass, observed holy days, family prayer and devotions, active parish life, reception of the sacraments and respect for the sacramentals, and concern for the poor might seem passé in the twenty-first century but they have been the stuff of Catholic piety for centuries. The home remains the chief arena in which the soul effectively encounters the Risen Christ in this or in any age.