THE LORD IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! There is no sweeter thing to hear, no nobler statement to proclaim; there is nothing in this life that is more powerful than to echo the intense greeting of Easter. This is difficult, I admit, for 21st century scientific minds, or at least, minds that see science as an absolute and independent measurement of knowledge and value. The witnessing of an empty tomb is as unsupportable a claim for proof of a resurrection as is the invisibility of God a measurement of proof for His existence.
This is understandable. One can beat himself over the head with the doubts that sometimes accompany human reason – the Christian’s “what if,” the atheist’s “what if not,” or even the gross amalgamation of the two. Many of us have heard even from the pulpit by mislead preachers how Jesus was only “experienced” as resurrected by the Apostles, but not actually risen in the body. This third premise is such a compromise of faith and reason that I feel it doesn’t deserve any more lines in this limited bulletin, except to say that an “experience” of resurrection is not the same as a resurrection. We must remain, as it were, in the uncomfortable position of believing either that Jesus never rose from the dead, or of believing that He is truly risen, bodily. The latter is the hinge by which the door of our Catholic faith hangs.
St. Paul famously wrote, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Easter is not just another nice holiday but is the historical shift between the old world and the new dimension of human life. Believer or not, one cannot remain intellectually honest and at the same time ignore the impact that the Jesus event had in the historical course of the world.
The nihilistic dirge of our post-modern crisis, “God is dead,” and its eventual climate of militant disbelief, is somewhat prophetic, almost as prophetic as the charge of Pontius Pilot, when he unknowingly inscribed a true statement on the cross of the crucified Christ with the intention to shame him through his crime, “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum,” Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. The fact of Easter does assume the unintended truth behind Nietzsche’s remorse, “God is dead.” If Jesus has truly risen, then he also truly died. We can say that at some point in our shared human history, we killed God. God gave us his very heart, and we pierced it with a lance. What I can never get used to is not the thought that we killed God, but that God gave himself over to us so willingly.
God had truly died – not, as it were, due to the eventual death caused by the worship of the human ego, which we call sin, but by a love that was capable of self-gift, and thus, capable also of resurrection. The god or gods ridiculed by modern atheism are incomparable to the God attached to what the Jews have called, “the living God,” and what the Christians call “the God who lives.” Honestly, I wouldn’t worship the god that so many militant atheists are trying so hard to disprove. It sounds boring, unattractive, and very petty. I’m far more interested in the Holy Trinity, and in the specific encounter between faith and reason, in the historical occurrence of the Incarnation of God. I’d rather base my life on the eye witness narrative of the closest friends of the man from Nazareth who was risen from the dead out of a selfless love that is beyond anything I have ever encountered in this world. Nothing makes me more certain of truth than the enigmatic person of Jesus, the Son, the Word through whom you and I are little words, little children, of God the Father.
I heard a man once say, “how can I believe that Jesus truly rose from the dead? I can believe He rose from the dead, because I know him.” At the end of the day, belief matters only insofar as I have a relationship with the object of belief. I am either in a relationship with my back turned to the one who is always near to me, or I can face him. To face in attention, to encounter the one who is looking at me, who is nearer to me than I am to myself – this is belief. It cannot happen by a simple benefit of the doubt, or an appropriation of mindless agreements. Belief, that is, faith, is not solely the mental capacity of being convinced about something. Being convinced would never have the power to change the world the way that the empty tomb and the corporal encounters of the risen Christ had in our history as an earthly civilization. Further still is it the leaving behind of logic in favor of the unreasonable. Faith and belief…these are resolute consequences, which change the dimension of my personal choices and my vision of the world – consequences, that is, after-effects of what comes first: a life-altering encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. Look into the empty tomb of your heart, turn around, and witness the One who is alive in order to love you.
-Fr. Matt Jamesson