FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
St. Paul tells us: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (I Cor 15:14). Christ is risen, and, therefore, our faith is the true foundation of our life, our hope looks forward to our own resurrection, and our charity leads us to the house of the Father – to heaven.
The core of Christian faith is faith in the resurrection of Christ:“The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth).
MEANING OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION
St. Peter proclaims the central content of apostolic preaching, the Jesus event: the Lord suffered, died, and was raised – and lives! (Acts 10:34, 37-43). St. Paul preaches the good news (Acts 13:32-33) contained in the emblematic hymn that was commonly recited by the first Christian communities: “I handed to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1or 15:3-5; 2 Tim 2:8).
In his earthly life, Jesus brought back to life (resuscitation) the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:34-43), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-15), and Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (Jn 11:38-44). The three died twice: raised up by Jesus from their first death, the three died a second and final inescapable death.
The resurrection of Christ is very different! Jesus came back to life: not to an earthly life, but to an incorruptible and glorious life “beyond time and space.” Writes Pope Benedict XVI: “He was quite different, not a mere resuscitated corpse, but one living anew and forever in the power of God … Jesus is “the same embodied man, and he is the new man, having entered upon a different manner of existence.” Jesus “did not simply return to normal biological life: Jesus is not ‘a ghost,’ and ‘the encounters’ with the Risen Lord “are not the same as mystical experiences” that are a question of moments (Benedict XVI).
According to Guardini, there are two main differences between the Lord before the resurrection and the Lord after the Resurrection. One: He no longer comes and goes but “appears” and “vanishes” with disturbing suddenness; no more barriers of time and space. And two: the evangelists underline that “it is the same Jesus of Nazareth: no mere spirit but the corporal Lord who has lived among them.” The apostles see his “wounds.” The disciples in the boat say, wrongly, that he is a ghost, and the beloved disciple, rightly, that “He is the Lord” (cf. Jn 21:1-14). Moreover, Guardini underlines, “God became man and remains man for all eternity”: “the eternal Lord throned at the right hand of the Father is the same Jesus of Nazareth, the earthly, human Jesus” (Romano Guardini, The Lord).
Thanks to God’s unmerited gift of faith, we believe in the Resurrection of Christ. We profess: “On the third day He rose from the dead” (the Creed; cf. Mt 17:22). And because we believe in Jesus’ resurrection, we also believe in our own personal resurrection: Christ is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18-19); his resurrection is the guarantee of our own resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-21). Indeed, “his resurrection is our rising to life” (Easter Preface II). Words to ponder: “If we do not experience ‘inside us’ the peace and joy that Jesus gives, it is difficult to find ‘outside us’ proof of the Resurrection” (J. A. Pagola). Our resurrection “consists of the transformation of the totality of our being, spirit and flesh, by the re-creative power of God’s love” (Guardini).
We have not seen the Risen Lord as the apostles. We are grateful to Thomas for doubting and thus prompting Jesus’ words: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe (Jn 20:29). These words were said for us. They represent – for some – the ninth beatitude.
WITNESSES OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION
The time of transition between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension into heaven was not long as the four Gospels and St. Paul proclaim. “Above all, it was a matter of assembling a circle of disciples who would be able to testify that Jesus did not remain in the grave, that he lives on. Their testimony is an essential mission: they must proclaim to the world that Jesus is alive – that he is Life itself” (Pope Benedict XVI).
The Risen Lord told the apostles: “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”(Mt 28:18-19).
To strengthen our faith in Jesus’ Resurrection, we have most credible witnesses: the apostles. How the Resurrection experience impacted them! Before Easter, they were afraid and sad. After Easter, after Pentecost they proclaimed courageously and joyfully the death and resurrection of Christ, and suffered terribly and paid the ultimate price: martyrdom.
How did the first Christian communities show that they had experienced Christ’s transforming presence? How? Simply by being faithful to Jesus and his Gospel: “They remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to fraternity, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer…” (Acts, 2:42, 46-47). Non-believers at that time used to say of the followers of Jesus: “Look how they love each other.”
With the first disciples, Christians through centuries have proclaimed in words and deeds that the Lord is Risen! Like Peter and John, the disciples of Jesus today cannot be silenced “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts, 4:20).
Words to ponder: A witness is a person “who first sees and then shows” (W. Barclay, In Mk 9:2-8); “Only authentic witnesses can credibly speak the saving word” (St. John Paul II). Have we seen the Lord? Easter people have seen the Lord.
How amazing! We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song! Alleluia, that is, Praise the Lord: “Praise God with the whole of yourselves, it is not only your tongue and your voice that should praise him, but your conscience, your life, your deeds” (St. Augustine, On the Psalms).