An Incredible Event
Why is it that many Catholics wear crucifixes around their necks but not representations of the empty tomb?
Without the Resurrection on the third day, the events of Good Friday would merely mark the end of the story of another failed Messiah. The execution of Yeshua the Nazarene, alongside two other men, would hardly warrant a footnote in history. When she found the tomb was empty, she suspected that somebody had stolen his body.
When Mary Magdalen arrived at the tomb to anoint the corpse of her friend Jesus, she had no expectation that something remarkable might have happened. When she found the tomb was empty, she suspected that somebody had stolen his body.
She called Peter and John, and they, too, were puzzled. The full truth would be revealed to them later that day in the Upper Room.
And even then, they had to be assured by Christ that they were encountering not a spirit but the actual man: “Look at my [pierced] hands and my feet, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, but I have” (Luke 24:39).
The general confusion — one in which we share when we read the varying Gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb one after another — is reasonable.
Dead people don’t spontaneously come alive, less those who had been so thoroughly tortured to death as Jesus had been less than 48 hours earlier.
Even after all Jesus had said about death and resurrection, and even after having seen him raise the dead — Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow at Nain — Peter and John evidently had not expected Jesus to rise from the dead himself. Indeed, even after their encounters with the Risen Christ, they didn’t quite know what to do with the Resurrection until they received their commission after the fish braai breakfast on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Indeed, even after their encounters with the Risen Christ, they didn’t quite know what to do with the Resurrection until they received their commission after the fish braai breakfast on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
They knew that Christ had risen, but were perplexed about what to do with it. And even with the benefit of nearly 2000 years of hindsight, in many ways we, the spiritual descendants of the disciples, still share in that mystification.
So it is simpler to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas (usually without spending too much time pondering the meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation) and to emphasise the Passion of Christ culminating in his sigh at 3pm: “It is accomplished.” But the story is not yet finished; it is about to reach the climax in the Resurrection — God defying nature.
But the story is not yet finished; it is about to reach the climax in the Resurrection — God defying nature.
Preaching the Resurrection to sceptics is a hard sell, of course. It was always so, even just after it had happened, and even with many eyewitnesses testifying to seeing the risen Christ. (St Paul put the number at “more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive”, as if to dare his audience to obtain their testimony.) In telling the story of the Resurrection, the evangelists include embarrassing details which would have been omitted had they been peddling lies.
In telling the story of the Resurrection, the evangelists include embarrassing details which would have been omitted had they been peddling lies.
Had they intended to deceive, the witness of women, for example, would have been excluded, for a woman’s testimony was regarded as worthless. The reports of mere fishermen from the backwaters of Galilee would not have carried much weight either.
If the Gospel accounts were spun to create public credibility and acceptance, rather than the truth, the evangelists would have had a high-ranking priest finding the empty tomb, perhaps in the company of Pontius Pilate. The first Christians were prepared to die for their certainty in the fact of Christ’s Resurrection—a belief that promised them no earthly reward.
The first Christians were prepared to die for their certainty in the fact of Christ’s Resurrection — a belief that promised them no earthly reward.
On Good Friday we mark the atoning death of the Son of God for the whole world. Easter Sunday is the necessary vindication of that. You cannot have one without the other. Christ died and rose from the dead so that even the most abject of sinners may have the opportunity of being redeemed, as Jesus promised while he was on earth.
We must not become casual about the meaning of Christ’s violent death and Resurrection for humanity. Because of it, we have the option of spending eternity in the presence of God.
Christ died and rose from the dead so that even the most abject of sinners may have the opportunity of being redeemed, as Jesus promised while he was on earth.
Something astonishing happened in Jerusalem that Passover weekend almost 2000 years ago. And because of it, something incredible — the salvation of unworthy sinners, including one day, we hope, all of us — is happening every day.
That is what we celebrate at Easter.
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