Any fair assessment of this week’s gospel would rate the disciples as pretty slow on the uptake. In various gospel accounts, five times the risen Christ shows his friends that the prophesies concerning his Resurrection were all true. He had been taken away from them… been tortured… been crucified… died and was buried. But now, he is risen in glory. He is not a ghost. He is living flesh and blood… their friend and teacher, returned in triumph over death. No wonder they are dumb struck. Their instincts, reason and experience tell them: The cross had done its wicked work. What’s dead is dead… end of story. Yet here is Jesus … to see, to hear, to touch. How can that be?
We have been raised in the gospel of God’s new covenant. We have more than a few Easter’s under our belts. We have read the scriptures and heard these accounts over and over. Yet the idea of life after death remains a profound mystery that both challenges our reason and defines our faith.
Brilliant theologians have dedicated lifetimes to expanding on the proofs of the historical Jesus and the evidence of his Resurrection. Yet to date they have never established the absolute empirical basis for the Resurrection unsupported by faith. But that is the whole point. We are called to believe, not to litigate the evidence. Oxford theologian John Whale made the case that: “The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith, it is the Christian faith.”
Not surprisingly, no one could better sum up the centrality of the Resurrection than Jesus. Before, not after, he went to the cross, Jesus told us: I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25-26) In an “I-told-you-so” moment from this morning’s gospel, the risen Jesus reminds his disciples: Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name… You are witnesses of these things.
In scores of sick rooms, I have been a witness of these things. Jesus has repeated this message to me over and over. I have been privileged to see the proof with my own eyes. I have seen repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I have seen the body succumb to the ravages of time and disease, while the soul goes home to God … sometimes in glory, other times in peace, many times in fear … but always in the hope of the Resurrection. There is a personal Calvary that awaits us all. The flesh succumbs. But as Jesus shows us this morning, death is highly over-rated. It is a passage… not an end. The body fails… but the spirit lives. In Christ our debts are paid. Our future is bright. As he lives on, we live on in him.
It is very rare that anyone can predict with certainty the exact moment of their physical death. It is common to all Christians that we can fix the precise moment of our eternal life. It is the moment that we were baptized into Christ. It is “The hour I first believed.” So if you are looking for proof of the Resurrection, look around you. We are the Body of Christ. We are the living witness to Christ’s love in the world. I’m sure it is no coincidence that Jesus came to the disciples as they gathered around the table for a meal. He was in communion with them. They came together for sustenance and strength and he was there to provide it.
And so we come together this morning for sustenance and strength… and he is here to provide it. He is in the broken bread and the cup that we share. He is in the love that we celebrate and take with us into the world. Amid the continuous chaos that awaits us outside the church doors, our lives proclaim his words: Peace be with you. He is risen. And by God’s grace, when we stand before him in glory, he will remind us once again: I told you so.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: Duccio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons