How can you believe that Christ is risen?

Listen to mp3 file
2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B: April 15, 2012
Acts 4:32-35; Ps 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

“These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in his name.

On Easter Sunday, and throughout the 50 days of the Easter Season, we celebrate the truth that our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The tomb could not hold him. His love conquered death itself, and he rose triumphant, his body transformed and glorified. And he opens the way to us to share in this Resurrection life: partially now, in our souls, through baptism; fully, on the last day, when he raises us up in a resurrection like his.

“These are written that you may come to believe… and that, believing, you may have life in his name.” Life now; and life for eternity.

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard about how one of the apostles, St. Thomas, at first did not believe the news that Christ had risen from the dead. But once he had seen him with his own eyes, and had the chance to touch him, to touch the wounds in his hands and side, what a change! He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” And we can well imagine the joy he felt; a joy that propelled him through many years of missionary proclamation, ultimately meeting a martyr’s death, in witness to his risen Lord.

St. Thomas came to believe that day. What about you? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead?

I ask because I have discovered this year, in our class sessions that we have viewed and discussed the “Catholicism” video series, that at least some of your fellow parishioners there do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. At least, if I interpreted their words correctly. They want to believe; but they don’t. Indeed, I have found that some of the parishioners take it for granted that, if the video series ever speaks of any miraculous events, obviously such miracles did not occur. They couldn’t have.

Now, if this is true of them, is it true of you? How many of you here at this Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter do not believe that Christ rose from the dead? And how many Easter Season Masses have you attended over the years, never believing that most basic of Christian proclamations?

Just briefly, I would like to speak directly to this topic, to see if I can help to move you a little closer to believing—a little closer to the life that that faith will bring to you. I don’t have the length of a book chapter, or even a series of lectures—but I hope just a few minutes can help. How can you come to believe that Christ is truly risen? I recommend to you five steps.

First, I want to urge you to take a position. If you don’t think Christ rose from the dead, then what did happen? I want you to find an answer and take a stand. And the reason I say that is because, if all you’re doing is critiquing someone else’s views, it is very easy to be holding up unreasonably high standards of evidence and proof. But if you have to defend an answer yourself, those standards tend to come down to a more realistic level. And once they do, I believe that you will find that Christ’s resurrection, while utterly extraordinary, is actually the most solid and reasonable explanation out there for what happened that first Easter Sunday.

Second, you need to admit the possibility of miracles occurring. And I say that on this basis: if there is a God—infinite, eternal, all-powerful, who created the universe and established the physical laws that govern it—then that God has the power to intervene and make something happen that is different from those physical laws. You don’t have to agree up front that this has ever happened; you just need to allow for the possibility that it could happen, if he ever wanted to. So, no excluding miracles as impossible.

Third, you should consider the evidence that will need to be accounted for. Very briefly, that will include the following:

  • The physical facts of Roman crucifixion; of burial practices of the time; of bodily decomposition; and so on.
  • The apostles themselves: where they came from, what they were like; how they behaved before and after the alleged resurrection; the lives of bold witness that they lived, to the point of martyrdom.
  • The fact that the dead body of Jesus was never produced.
  • The existence of the New Testament books; and the reality of Christ’s Church today.

And then any explanation will need to account for all of this evidence.

  • So, if you wonder: what if Jesus didn’t die at all; what if he swooned on the cross and then revived in the tomb? Then you have to ask: does that fit with how crucifixion happened? If Jesus, barely alive, showed himself to his disciples, would this have impressed them?
  • Or, if you wonder whether the disciples just had hallucinations of a risen Christ, then you have to ask: do hallucinations work that way? That many different people (including 500 at once); over 40 days; having conversations with him, touching him, seeing him eat; is that how hallucinations work? Were the disciples that mentally ill?
  • Or, if you wonder whether it was just a big lie, a big conspiracy by the disciples: Did they have the ability to do that? The motive? Why did none ever admit the conspiracy—but instead every one traveled missionary journeys and died as martyrs?
  • And in all of these: why did no one ever produce Jesus’ dead body, or the ordinary living Jesus in hiding?

Because there was no dead body. Because Christ had risen from the dead. Extraordinary as it is, it is also the best rational explanation. (One place to explore this further is Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ.)

Fourth, make sure you understand the teaching of the resurrection that the Church has always proclaimed. For, while this was a real, historical, physical event, it was not merely a resuscitation to the same earthly life. Rather, it was a transformation; and Christ’s risen, glorified body had new characteristics and abilities, as the Gospel accounts show. For his resurrection was the firstfruits of the New Creation, when all will be made new.

Now, the difficult thing about apologetic arguments like this is that they can become very dry, as if we’re just trying to prove a fact in a courtroom. But really this is just meant to clear away any obstacles that have prevented you from believing this.

And so we come to the fifth and last step: to meet Christ yourself. For the risen Christ is very much alive; and I believe that he will reveal himself to you if you ask him to, and if you make room in time and efforts to find him. Seek him in his Word, in his sacraments, in his real presence in the Blessed Sacrament; in prayer, in his Church, in those who follow him most closely.

For Christ’s resurrection was never meant to be a secret—and especially not from you! It is good news! And those confused, fearful disciples of Jesus were transformed by it, and went to the ends of the earth to tell others. In Christ’s resurrection is victory; in him is life. Test it and see that this truth is real. “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

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