Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Meaning of the Resurrection

Michael J. Gerson


March 29, 2013

By Michael J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Recent polling by the Pew Research Center reveals that nearly 20 percent of Americans report having “seen or been in the presence of a ghost.” This is a remarkably common belief across cultures and throughout human history. We know, for example, that Jesus’ disciples believed in ghosts, because, following the Resurrection, they thought they had seen one. 

The book of Luke tells us that when Jesus suddenly appeared to his followers, “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.”  Jesus took great pains to reassure them that this was not the case.  “Look at my hands and feet,” he said.  “It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 

This was an important moment in the story of the Resurrection that we recall this time of year.   C.S. Lewis summarizes it this way: “The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the Universe. Something new had appeared in the Universe; as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into ‘ghost’ and ‘corpse.’ A new mode of being has arisen….  The hypothesis is that God has come down into the created universe, down to manhood – and come up again, pulling it up with him.”

This, of course, has implications for all of us as individuals. But the Resurrection is really a statement about the Universe. On Good Friday, it is cold and silent, filled with unfair suffering, death and grief. On Easter, it charged with the possibilities of life and hope. This is not merely a change in subjective feeling. It is real change in history, opening the possibility that injustice, suffering, death and grief can be finally defeated. 

A number of Christian writers, from Lewis to Alister McGrath have compared this situation to the occupation of Europe by the Nazis during World War II. Nearly the whole continent lived in an oppression and despair that seemed permanent. But then came the news of the D-Day landings. Soon it became clear that the tide of the war had changed. Nazi rule would eventually end—though it had not yet ended in most places. 

“In one sense,” says McGrath, “the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally. The scent of victory and liberation is in the air… An objective change has taken place in the theater of war—with a resulting subjective change in the hearts and minds of captive people.” 

The Resurrection is not the appearance of a shade or shadow. It is the decisive, real-world victory in the battle against death and despair, promising eventual liberation. It means that the verdict of Good Friday is not final, that hope is not a cruel cosmic joke, and that all our efforts to improve this world are honored by a God who came down to this world to pull it up with him. 

After posing the question: “What are we going to make of Christ?” Lewis answers: “There is no question of what we can make of Him. It is entirely a question of what he intends to make of us.” 

—Michael J. Gerson is nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).  

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”