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Resurrection in the Gospels

A wise commentator observed that if Jesus had not risen from the grave we would never have heard of him. There would be no Christian churches and the world would be totally unrecognizably different. No matter his miracles or his wisdom, all would have disappeared into the tomb with him.

The resurrection came all unexpectedly. It was only in the light of the Holy Spirit that the early preachers and gospel writers were able to perceive its promise hidden in Jesus’ words. We see this in their reactions. Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener (Jn 20.11-17) while his closest male disciples scoffed and rejected the women’s account of the empty tomb. (Mk 16.11; Lk 24.11,22-24)

St Paul met this same disbelief when he tried to witness to Jesus’ resurrection in Athens. (Acts 17.16-18) he continued to insist that this was the hinge on which Christian faith pivoted and reached out to the entire world. He was adamant in this claim as we see in his words to the first Christians in Corinth, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15.14,17)

The Resurrection Historically

Since his death numerous theories have tried to explain Jesus’ resurrection in purely mythical or spiritual terms. The last 150 years have tried to create a distinction between the Christ of faith and the Christ of history. Modern versions of this see the resurrection as a faith event within the first disciples which they then made concrete by constructing a story to support what they had experienced within themselves. Given the history of horrendous persecutions of Christianity and attempts to discredit their beliefs, such an explanation is historically and psychologically very weak.

For Us Today

The resurrection continues to be the cornerstone of Catholic faith. We live in a profoundly secularized time. Pressure to believe is made more difficult because of the Church’s own struggles: wide loss of practice especially among youth, lack of priestly vocations, and the scandal caused by sexual abuse.

If ever we needed the hope springing from Jesus’ resurrection it is now. And miracles of grace do happen: remarkable conversion stories, the rise of new charisms and communities of consecrated life, even many still dying for their faith in places such as Syria and Turkey, as well as India and Pakistan.

The Paradox of Faith

The resurrection event lies at the heart of faith even in unexpected moments of our hectic Western way of life. Looking at the faces of our sleeping children or gazing at new snow on the Orongorongo or Ruahine ranges can call up moments of intense joy in the presence of a Christ who still stalks our daily lives. We continue to meet inspiring men and women who live in the light of the resurrection. At the Easter vigil we can feel the cry rising in our hearts, he is risen, he is risen. Death may reign all around but new life continues to break forth.

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