By Charlie Clauss
Warning: I start with a pet peeve. When we say the Nicene Creed in my parish, there comes a point when we say, “On the third day he rose again.” And then we pause and say, “in accordance with the Scriptures.” I’m sure the pause happens because of the formatting in the Book of Common Prayer, which adds a line break. But this bothers me because the sentence expresses linked thoughts: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” The pause has the net effect of breaking an important connection. The resurrection is not disconnected from the world of the Scriptures, but is rather an integral part.
An obvious question might be Which scriptures? It could be the creed has in mind a passage like this one from Luke:
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24: 5b-8)
What is more striking in the creed’s strong echo of the passage in 1 Corinthians:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
Certainly for the Apostle Paul Scriptures meant the Hebrew Scriptures.
N.T. Wright makes the point:
Perhaps the most important thing about 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 is, however, what Paul and the early tradition … understood the resurrection to mean. It was not a matter of the opening up of a new religious experience. Nor was it a proof of survival, of life after death. It meant that the scriptures had been fulfilled: in other words, that the promised new age had broken in to the midst of the present age, that the kingdom of God had dawned upon a surprised and unready world. The resurrection of Jesus was the decisive eschatological event — not merely in some Bultmannian existentialist sense but in the first-century Jewish sense. “According to the scriptures?”did not mean that Paul could find a few biblical texts that predicted this event it he hunted hard enough. It meant that the entire biblical narrative had at last reached its climax, its appointed and God-ordained goal, in these astonishing events. (Wright, “Early Traditions and the Origins of Christianity,” Sewanee Theological Review 41.2 )
When we stand to say the creed, we are entering into a very long story, a narrative that begins with Abraham, or even Creation. There is also a long tradition of attempting to separate the Old Testament from the New, an effort that goes back to at least the late first and early second century, particularly to Marcion. But the God of the Old is the same as the God of the New. There are problems to be confronted in this, passages in the Old Testament that give us pause. Christians, however, should be committed to the idea that when Jesus said to his followers, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), he was talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The next time you say the creed, try not to pause. Say On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures in one phrase. You might need to swim upstream (which is its own kind of worthwhile discipline), but you will be affirming two very important truths: Jesus was raised from the dead, and it was God’s plan all along.