Three women went to a tomb just outside the city limits of Jerusalem in the morning of the day after Jesus of Nazareth, at a place named Golgotha, had been horribly crucified as a criminal and his body buried in a nearby garden owned by a wealthy man from Arimathea. Had there at that time been a New York Times newspaper, Jerusalem edition, it likely would have reported the event this way:
Three local women went to a garden tomb near Golgotha to anoint the body of an executed criminal and now allege that the tomb is empty because he rose from the dead. Their allegation has not been substantiated by local religious authorities.
The big question for us in our day is this: How do we regard the various reports of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? There have been many. For instance we have this from the testimony of St. Matthew:
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Did it really happen? Those who where there testify that truly it did. Later, the apostles of Jesus were put to death for their testimonies. They never recanted their claims. St. John wasn’t put to death; he died in exile on an island named Patmos located near Ephesus in Turkey. The other apostles all were put to death for their testimonies with none of them denying their claims.
Matthew, like the apostle Judas, was a money man, a tax collector before he became a disciple of Jesus. He was smart and astute, a man who paid attention to details. Judas, as we know, hanged himself over his betrayal of Jesus. Matthew went on to give us an account of just what happened that Easter Sunday morning. He was a Jew who in his testimony directed his gospel account toward his Jewish countrymen. We must remember that when he spoke of the Jews he wasn’t referring to the Jewish people, he was referring rather to the Jewish religious authorities. The testimony of Matthew and the other apostles still stands even to today.
Christ is risen! Alleluia! In our world today filled as it is with death, suicide bombings, insane cruelties and evil, Christians on this Easter Sunday fill their hearts and minds with God’s greatest gift, namely that evil’s worst is being, and will be, quashed. Death does not and cannot have the final say. Hate will end in futility. The head of the serpent will be crushed. Death cannot overcome life. Christ is risen! Alleluia!
I have been a priest for forty-eight years and never before have I felt the power of those words as I do now: Christ is risen! Alleluia! The events presently transpiring in the Middle East with the death-dealing savagery of ISIL only gives new meaning to the power of Christ’s victory over sin and death.
What was and what is now the purpose of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection? It was and is all for the life of the world, human life and eternal life. That purpose was summed up and proclaimed by Jesus during the Last Supper on the night before He died. St. John reports the words of Jesus when He declared: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
To delve into the richness of what Jesus was proclaiming we need to go back to the Garden of Eden and the Book of Genesis’ account about Adam and Eve. The Tree of Life planted in the middle of the Garden nourished them with God’s life, an immortal life, a life without death. By their sin against God they cut themselves off from that life, life lived in closeness with God, life lived in God’s life. In their expulsion from the Garden of Eden they were given God’s promise of eventual restoration. In the Book of Genesis we hear God addressing the serpent who had seduced Adam and Eve: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
The restoration occurred on the Tree of the Cross and was given to us in the Garden of the Resurrection. The connection between the two gardens, the Garden of Eden and the Garden of the Resurrection, is inescapable. Death which came with Adam and Eve’s rebellion was overcome with Christ’s resurrection. The fruit of the Tree of Life was given to us in the fruit of the Tree of the Cross. There, on this new Tree of Life, Satan’s head was crushed.
There are those in the world around us who do not want us to see that. They do not want us to see the big picture, much less understand it. There are those in the world around us who seek to hide Easter by focusing attention on Easter bunnies, eggs, and Easter parades. Many do the same at Christmas by trying to turn Christmas into “The Winter Holidays” filled with reindeer, snowmen, and light shows. The commercial world around us, still under the influence of the serpent, seeks to blind us with glitter and glitz to capture our vision. All seek to have us ignore what Jesus Christ was all about.
The event we celebrate from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new and eternal life. This new life reinstates us to living in closeness with God in God’s grace, the destiny God gave when He created Adam and Eve, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The Garden of the Resurrection gloriously replaces the Garden of Eden. Life lived in closeness with God is now possible again.
The account of the eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection is the foundation of our faith. These eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and his post-resurrection appearances were simple, unsophisticated people, people with no axe to grind and no agenda designed to dupe their listeners. After twenty centuries their account still stands, stands without any reasonable refutation of what they saw and said. All of the attacks that the worldly have directed at them have failed. Why? Because they gave us the simple truth, the tomb is empty and Jesus is out and about.
All of this gives me not only assurance but the desire to share their testimony message and to proclaim it to all who would listen. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Alleluia!
The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his Resurrection. Before Jesus entered into His passion and death He had said: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he.” The Resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly “I AM”, the Son of God and God himself. Christ’s Resurrection is closely linked to the Incarnation of God’s Son which we celebrate at Christmas and is its fulfillment in accordance with God’s eternal plan.
Christ is risen! Your life and my life have meaning. Death does not end our existence. Not only that but I know that God is a God of love, that He loves me, that He loves you, and that each and every human being in God’s eyes has value beyond measure. What happiness I have in bringing that wonderful news to people in this world, especially people living in today’s world, a world filled with horrors and miseries heaped upon them by those who either deny there is a God, who deny any value to human life, and who are anti anything and everything of decency, beauty, and goodness.
It is great and wonderful news I proclaim to you today. Christ is risen! Alleluia!