A friend of mine whom I grew up with asked if I would do his wedding. I was happy to. Not presuming he is a practicing Catholic I asked him if would be receiving Holy Communion. He said he would like to, but he said, ‘As a scientist, I do not believe in the resurrection.’ He is a pathologist, the doctors who perform autopsies. Every day he is looking at dead bodies and for him, the idea of a body being raised from the dead is preposterous. From a scientific point of view it is impossible and irrational, but what does impossible mean for God.
An empty tomb proves nothing and it was only after Jesus began to appear to the Apostles that they gradually were convinced in the truth of the resurrection. In fact in one account it says that Jesus admonished the Apostles for their lack of faith. He gave out to them for refusing to believe! (See Mark 16:14-20)
There is an amazing line in St. Matthew’s account of the passion. During the trial of Jesus, because there is conflicting evidence against him, which is of no use to them, the High Priest eventually puts it to Jesus directly: “I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
And Jesus answered:
“The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:63-64).
In other words, Jesus says “Yes I am the Son of God.” For Jesus to make a claim like that he must have been either a liar, insane, or he was telling the truth, because it is an extraordinary thing to say. We believe it was the truth and that is exactly who Jesus is, not just a holy man, or a prophet, but the Son of God.
In the book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, St. John the disciple of Jesus who stood at the cross, recalls a vision he had where a man appeared to him. He says that he saw what seemed to be a man. His hair was white as wool, or snow. His eyes were like fire. His skin was like shining bronze and out of his mouth came a double-edged sword. He says that he was so afraid when he saw this that he fell down as if dead. Then this person or being that he saw touched him and said
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld” (Rev 1:17b-18).
Who was this person? It was of course Jesus, risen from death. Not just the Jesus whose name we so often use carelessly as a swear word, but Jesus who is the Son of God. Now John, who had this vision, had known and lived with Jesus for at least three years, so why would Jesus appear to him in such a terrifying way? Perhaps to remind him and us of who Jesus really is, that is, the Son of God. He is not just Jesus our brother, though He is that too. But He is also Jesus the Son of God, before whom the whole of creation will bow down, who will judge the living and the dead and who will come again in glory. I think it’s important that we remember that.
Why is the resurrection so important? To understand that we have to go back to the beginning. God created us to be happy. The story of Adam and Eve helps us to explain that. God gave them paradise and every delight they could ask for. But He also warned them to recognise and respect their limitations. ‘Do not touch the tree of good and evil.’ In other words, don’t play God. Don’t be the ones who decide what only God can decide. But they became arrogant and they listened to a lie, the lie which said, ‘You can be like God, knowing good from evil…’ Satan tempted them and they gave in to the temptation. But as soon as they had done this, chaos followed, because we cannot live without God and without God’s guidance.
This is the same sin that we see happening all around us at this time. Much of our society has decided it doesn’t need God and that we will decide who lives and who dies (abortion and euthanasia), what is male and female, what is good and evil. But the same thing happens. When we try to play God, chaos follows and that is exactly what we see happening all around us.
The worst problem of the Original Sin, was that they had no way of undoing the damage. They had lost the happiness God had given them and they could not get it back. But because God loves us, He wouldn’t leave us in that state and so through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He won it back for us and now offers it to us. He says, ‘I have done this for you and I offer it to you when you die (heaven), but you must choose it.’ Because God respects our free will, He allows us to accept or reject it. For Christians, baptism is how we choose it. Being baptized is to say, ‘Yes, I believe this. I want this and I choose this.’ That’s why we state what it is we believe at every Sunday mass in the Creed.
What does this mean for us in concrete terms? It means that what all of us long for—happiness and being reunited with the people we love—is waiting for us if we choose it. There is no greater hope than this. All of us want to be happy and all of us want to be with the people we love. And now that is waiting for us if we choose it. That’s why Easter is so important and is the greatest hope there is.
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld.”