On the third day he rose again. With these words the Creed moves from the earthly life of Our Lord to the glorious state in which he now lives.
It is to be noted that Jesus' Resurrection from the dead is mentioned in all of the early creeds of the Church.
Jesus died on Friday afternoon about 3:00 P.M. and was immediately laid in the tomb before dark. According to the Jewish reckoning of time, a day is calculated from nightfall to nightfall. Since Jesus was buried Friday afternoon and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, he was in the ground during some part of three different days. Hence, the Creed correctly says that he rose "on the third day", that it, the third day after his death and burial. St. Gregory the Great thought that the Resurrection took place at midnight between Saturday and Sunday, but St. Augustine and others have been of the opinion that it took place at dawn and so it is usually represented in Christian art.
Our English version of the Creed says that Jesus rose "again". Normally when we use the word "again" we mean "a second or third time". Obviously it cannot mean that in the Creed since Christ died once and rose once from the dead. Then why do we say "again"? The word can also mean "on the other hand, "in addition". So it can have an adversative meaning and that is the way it is used in the Creed. After saying that he died and was buried, the Creed says, "however", on the third day he rose. If you read the phrases over in succession you will understand the contrast.
We all know what the Resurrection of Jesus means and again we do not understand it. At present I am going to consider Jesus' Resurrection later there will something to say about our own personal resurrection, since that is also affirmed in the last sentence of the Creed.
"Resurrection" means the return of a dead man to life in its most literal sense. So the Creed simply says that Jesus, who died on the Cross on Friday and whose corpse was laid in the tomb, came back to life on Sunday. This is indeed a shocking statement. It signifies something that we have never experienced but must accept solely on faith because of the testimony of the Apostles, for the Apostles were the chief witnesses of the Resurrection (cf. Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32).
During his apostolic ministry, Jesus raised people from the dead. There was the twelve-year old daughter of Jarius (Mk 5:21-42), the only son of the widow of Naim (Lk 7:11-17) and his own personal friend, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (Jn 11). But they were raised to continue their natural life on earth. As such, they had to die a second time. Not so with Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead to a new and glorious form of life that will never end.
As we have already seen, Jesus died a cruel death on the Cross on Good Friday. His human soul departed from his body. According to the words of Scripture, during this time Christ's soul was in the "underworld" or Sheol and set free into heaven the souls of all the just who had died since the time of Adam. After about thirty-eight hours, the pure soul of Christ returned to be re-united with his body. Jesus returned to life. But what a life! His new life is very different from ours. We must always remember that when we are speaking of the Resurrection of Jesus we are talking about a divine mystery. In the Resurrection, the glorified humanity of Jesus has taken on qualities that we know little or nothing about.
Jesus is now living at the "right hand of the Father". He appeared to the frightened Apostles suddenly. "the doors being shut" (Jn 20:19, 26). Whole books can and have been written on the Resurrection of Jesus.
See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.
Kenneth Baker, S.J. "The Resurrection of Jesus." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 22 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 70-71.
This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., assumed editorship of Homiletic & Pastoral Review in April 1971 and remained in this position for almost forty years. In 1983 he published a three-volume explanation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, EschatologyCopyright © 1995 Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
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