There is something called an “elevator speech.” That is, if you had 10 to 20 seconds to sum up your case as you ride up an elevator, how would you state it? The earliest Christian faith had such an elevator speech, it is called the Kerygma. The Christian faith in a nutshell: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This Gospel kernel offers a summation of what Christians believe, celebrate and try to live.
The parts of the summation follow upon one another. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ as one who underwent death, the same death and dying that all human beings must eventually experience. Jesus’s death was notably cruel and inhumane, death by crucifixion. He died as he had lived — with concern for others, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34). His death was redemptive and salvific. Following his death, he was buried.
On the third day he was raised from the dead. Whether it be the daily dying to our egos or, our final death, there is no rising without dying — death and resurrection are a tandem. Jesus spoke of it this way: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat ...” (John 12: 24). Jesus’s resurrection is more than resuscitation of a dead body. Jesus rises, body and soul, and becomes a life giving spirit, he is glorified — we struggle for words here. St. Paul tries to offer an image of the resurrection in his First Letter to the Corinthians, comparing it to planting a seed in the ground which produces a piece of fruit that is vastly different from the seed that was planted (cf. I Cor. 15: 35ff).
The Kerygma is completed with the anticipation of the Lord’s Second Coming, “Christ will come again.” This is important because what was started will be finished. God will end and complete human history with a new heaven and a new Earth, (Revelation 21:1). This is important because if Christ’s death is redemptive, and his resurrection is the first fruit of that redemption, then his second coming will bring full redemption and glorification to God’s creation, (Romans 8:18ff).
For many, this Kerygma, and its unpacking, will be of little interest. However, for2,000 years this message and the man behind it, Jesus crucified and risen, has regenerated a world grasping at straws. And today everyone who hears this Gospel, with even a spark of religious concern, feels like it can bring hope into their lives. The proclamation of this Gospel is powerful enough to deliver us from the aimlessness, selfishness, and pettiness of our quotidian grind. This Gospel of resurrection can and has, for centuries, evoked the highest energies of the spirit. Who is there among us who could deny that she would be a better person if they believed more fervently in Christ or a worse one if he renounced their faith, (Cf. Apologetics and the Biblical Christ, p.38, Avery Dulles, S.J.).
The Rev. Fred Nijem is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warner Robins.