Easter Sunday – The Resurrection is Real
Several people encounter the Risen Christ today: Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, and others. A few bystanders, such as the guards, see only the empty tomb, and they leave perplexed. And there are people, such as the high priests, so threatened by Christ in his earthly ministry, that they fear the witness of anyone spreading news of his resurrection.
Today, each one of us is a descendant of one of these people. Today the world marks an event of great Truth for Christians, skeptical interest for curious nonbelievers, and outright absurdity for hardened naysayers.
It should be no surprise that skeptics abound. As St. Paul warned us, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Paul does not speak of God’s power and wisdom while leaving Christ in the tomb, nor is his accusation against naysayers of his day based solely on the Crucifixion. The thrust of his argument is that God brought salvation to all the world through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Although this message has persisted through two millennia of hardship, when men of every age have tried to deny Christ, today’s naysayers are trying more clever tactics. Today’s critics have gone so far as to endorse the Good News of Christ on earth, or at least their interpretations of it, but not the reality of his resurrection. A recent book entitled The Sign explains how the Shroud of Turin represents the physical impression of Jesus’ dead body on a burial cloth – it does not deny the existence of Jesus, or his death, or even the authenticity of this relic. Instead the book uses evidence to present the disciples as primitive and distraught mourners, struck by the very realistic image of the body on the shroud, anthropomorphizing it into the risen Christ in their midst.
This theory and so many others not only fly in the face of 2,000 years of belief in the physical resurrection, they make Christ’s disciples look nonsensical. They implant a modern skeptic’s doubt and spiritual turmoil onto the very real witnesses of the physical resurrection.
These theories are examples of how a world turned against God cannot explain the work of God, so the world aims for the next nearest target: God’s holy ones. If skeptics cannot ridicule God to His face, they make the His Church look like fools. They have been doing it since the foundation of the Church – and Christ warned us about them from the very beginning. In the coming weeks we will hear several accounts of the high priests persecuting the early Church for proclaiming the resurrection.
But in focusing their attack on Christ’s resurrection as an historical event, skeptics (then and now) miss the whole point of our Paschal celebration. There is more to our faith in the resurrection than God’s work in Christ. We celebrate more than Christ alone overcoming the power of death for his own sake.
Our Easter is a celebration of a present reality, namely, Christ’s risen life in us, here and now. Our Easter celebration is a renewed sharing in the physical dying and physical rising of Christ, as we die to sin and come alive in a fuller way in the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord.
As St. Paul teaches us in the second reading today, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above.” It is no wonder that skeptics abound in the attack on the faith. Christ’s death and resurrection make no sense to those on the road to self-destruction, those obsessed with demonstrating clever theories and basking in human accolades.
We are a people of faith. But faith in what? We do not seek to aggrandize Christ’s life for the sake of God, or to glorify God for the work He can do for Himself. What would be the point of celebrating the resurrection annually if it marked a one-time event for Christ alone? Our faith reminds us of Christ’s resurrection, but it points us towards our own. Our celebration today is a foretaste of our own destiny and the confirmation of God’s promise in the psalms: “I will not let my beloved know decay.” We are God’s beloved.
Any skeptic who devotes himself to reading historical documents finds evidence of Jesus on earth and Jesus’ death. And history demonstrates that a number of people have died for worthy causes. Certainly dying to atone for all the sins of the world is a worthy cause. But any assessment of Christ’s Passion is incomplete without viewing it in light of the true and tangible bodily resurrection. Seeing the risen Christ, not an image on cloth, compelled men and women to face public humiliation, torment, and even death for their belief. They knew, as we know because of their teaching, that Salvation itself would be incomplete without the resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection from death.
The crowing achievement of the Passion is God’s restoring us to life, as he does first in Christ and then for all of us. Man could have been satisfied if Christ’s death had washed away sin, and we were simply free to die in God’s peace. However, that would imply God’s love reaches some endpoint or some final satisfaction. There is no point at which God says to us, “I have loved you enough.” The love of God cannot be exhausted – even on the Cross.
Through the Resurrection of Christ, God gives us new life. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God opens the way for us to offer that new life fully to God, eternally. This love is both the foundation for and result of the Passion we have commemorated throughout these holy days. The truth of the resurrection goes far beyond the sunrise encounters of that first Sunday or shrouds kept under glass. These things point us to the reality of Christ’s love, a love as real as his resurrection, witnessed by those holy women and men, and experienced and shared by all of us who believe in the Gospel.