Christ is risen! Christ is truly risen!
The depth and power of this most fundamental of Christian beliefs separates us from the other religious traditions of the world. While there are many common ideas and precepts that seem on the surface to tie all religious traditions together, belief in the power of life over death in the radical transformation of the Resurrection of Jesus identifies us as Christians.
The women and the disciples coming to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning of that first day of the week did not realize that they were stepping into history. What will happen to them over the course of the next 50 days was unimaginable as, with their hearts heavy with pain and loss after the events of that Friday, they went to complete the burial rites for Jesus that had been interrupted with the sundown beginning the Sabbath.
While they do not all come to the same conclusion at the same time, the fact of Jesus being raised becomes more and more apparent, particularly after he reveals himself to them in a physical and personal way.
It can be hard to imagine that, standing amidst the coldness of that empty tomb, still in the darkness because they dared not be seen in public going to the tomb of Jesus, they were not utterly confused, perhaps angry, and undoubtedly shocked.
Yet, they had seen Jesus perform many seemingly impossible miracles. He brought sight to those born blind, hearing and speech to the deaf mutes, exorcised demons, cleared the skin of lepers and brought strength to the paralyzed. They even witnessed him bring the dead back to life. So is it any wonder then that Jesus should himself have power over death?
Still, while all of Jesus’ other works changed the lives of those individuals and those around them, Jesus own Resurrection changes history. Not just the chronicle of human events which today mark time from his birth and have seen his name and words spread to all the corners of the earth, but the very course of the relationship between human beings and God.
In the very act of creation God established a relationship with humanity. This relationship, wounded by our own sinfulness is restored by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Yet, living as we do in a world burdened with war, division, poverty, cruelty and immorality, it is difficult for us to experience or encounter that restoration. The world – the physical world at least – looked the same the day after the Resurrection as it did the day before. Sure, the lives of Jesus’ immediate disciples changed, but what about the world in itself? Why did the Romans, or even the majority of Jesus’ own people, not see this transformation immediately?
This historical observation poses a tremendous challenge to us. The need that we have to quantify our feelings often leaves us unable to experience real transformations within us that have any long term impact. We only perceive the immediate. We often fail to look to the more complete sense of the change that happens within us.
Jesus literally and physically rose from the dead. His disciples and other companions literally and physically experienced Jesus as raised from the dead. We, however, rely solely upon their testimony. How do we know that their testimony is true? What are we to make of their experiences? The tendency is to want to dismiss them as uneducated Galilean fishermen who were easily duped by deception. Another tendency is to take those same fishermen and turn them into charlatans who seized an opportunity to set out a plan to deceive others.
These men and women, companions of Jesus, saw their lives change forever as a result of their encounter with Jesus. They gave up everything and suffered greatly for what they proclaimed to the world.
The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead then challenges each of us to a life of radical discipleship so that we, too, might live lives that can transform the world.
April 7 | Believing that there is life after death is a tough concept to grasp
A post-modernist culture has a very difficult time with belief, or at least with the idea of belief. It is true that all of us – even the most strident atheists and skeptics – have some system of belief that explains how things are, and in particular the peculiarities of human relationships. It stands to reason, then, that the celebration of Easter boggles the mind of the skeptic more than any other. While Christmas enjoys more of the cultural hype, it is Easter that defines who we are as a community of believers. Easter challenges all of us in very meaningful ways; the skeptic is confounded with a series of doubts each of which needs to be addressed.
Once we come to accept that Jesus is an actual historical person, which no historian today questions with any credibility, we must move on to the great mystery of the end of life. Even if one can dismiss claims of the virgin birth of Jesus as fanciful myth composed later in history – which it is not anyway – it is much harder to confront the Resurrection of Jesus.
That Jesus died on the cross, as a reviled opponent of the Roman Empire in the outpost of Judea in the Province of Syria, is a generally established historical fact. Jesus, like tens of thousands of others of his time, even of his fellow Jewish faith, died on this most gruesome instrument of human torture. Death is supposed to be the end, the great equalizer.
The skeptics among us are happy to deny that there is any human soul or life force that survives physical death. There is no “evidence” of a soul, it has not been mapped with a CT-Scan or found on an MRI. Death ends it all.
For the Christian this is not – this cannot – be the end. Death is the transition to eternity, the movement of the soul from the physical world back to its natural state of the spiritual world.
This is in itself a challenge to the skeptic who cannot reason himself to accept the idea of the soul. What comes next then, completely defies the post-modern world view. Jesus was raised from the dead.
This cannot be the case! How does that which is dead come back to life? This implies and requires a re-animation of a body, especially when the very idea of animation to begin with is excluded. Resurrection happens because there is a God who wills it and who can and does act in such a way as to cause the dead to return to life. This now pushes those presuppositions and boundaries to a totally new and unheard of extreme. For us this is belief upon belief. We have stepped deeply into the world of mystery as we contemplate the very action of God in history.
For those of us who are disposed to belief that God does indeed act within the context of human history in order to draw us more deeply into a relationship with himself, then the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead makes perfect sense. For those who deny any of this, belief in the Resurrection becomes untenable and absurd.
This is the great struggle we have today in evangelizing the world. When one fundamentally rejects the essential uniqueness of human personhood, then it stands to reason that belief in eternal life and the Resurrection of the dead would make no sense.
We see this failure in Thomas. He could make no sense out of the reports of the empty tomb or even the testimony of his brother disciples and companions that they had experienced the risen Christ. His hardness of heart stood even as an obstacle believing the experiences to those who he presumably loved and trusted.
How many of us have this same experience in within the circle of our families and friends. They cannot believe what they do not see, even when it takes more of an effort not to see than to see.
It is challenging but necessary to the life of faith that we lift the blinders of our skepticism and presuppositions so that we might clearly see what is before us: the promise of life eternal.
Rev. Mr. Garry Koch is a transitional deacon serving in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake. He expects to be ordained a priest June 1.