The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central element of our faith; believing that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his death on the Cross gives meaning and authority to everything else we believe. In fact, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then our whole Christian faith completely collapses.
And our belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a truly radical belief. As with so much of our faith, it’s easy to kind of take it and how incredible it is for granted because we are so used to hearing about it. But this goes beyond even being raised from the dead, as with the miracles that Jesus performed in which he raised Lazarus and others from the dead. Lazarus and the others, of course, were raised to essentially resume their regular life here on earth. In other words, they were still subject to death even after Jesus had raised them – they were going to die again – because they had not yet been raised to eternal life. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead instead marks a completely new beginning: his human body is no longer subject to death and is no longer subject to the physical laws that govern our universe. He cannot die again, nor can he suffer physical pain. As we will hear in subsequent readings from Scripture in the coming weeks, Jesus can still eat and drink, but he is also able to pass through walls and doors. He can instantly appear wherever and whenever he chooses; physical distance makes no difference for the Risen Lord.
And the accounts in Scripture of Jesus’ resurrection make clear that he has truly risen from the dead. When Peter and John entered the tomb, they saw that Jesus’ burial cloths were still there. The Jewish authorities tried to discredit the story that Jesus had risen from the dead by claiming that his disciples had instead stolen his body. However, the tomb had been guarded by Roman soldiers, and had anyone been able to get past them, they would not have taken the time to laboriously unwrap the cloths from off Jesus’ body and leave them behind. Some biblical scholars have suggested that the burial cloths that John and Peter would have seen would have essentially still taken the shape of Jesus’ body – think of a mummy but with no body, just the cloths – because the materials which had been used to wrap Jesus’ body would have formed a sticky substance that would have adhered to his body and then become rigid. So imagine going into the tomb yourself and seeing the burial cloths lying where Jesus’ body had been laid, still taking the shape of his body, but no body inside! As the readings tell us, Peter and John were “amazed”.
Before he died, Jesus had already told his disciples that he was going to be killed and then rise from the dead on the third day. However, Scripture also relates that they did not understand what he meant by this: this was a concept beyond what they could imagine. And so, when Peter saw the empty tomb with the burial cloths still lying there, he was “amazed”, but he did not yet believe in the resurrection – it was not until he personally encountered the risen Christ that he would come to believe.
Some theologians have speculated that Jesus first appeared to his mother Mary, which would make sense, and perhaps he did, but if he did do so, the meeting of the mother and Son was private and is unrecorded by Scripture. Instead, Scripture records that the first person that Jesus appeared to was Mary Magdalene, who had been a notorious sinner, forgiven by Jesus, who then became one of his most devoted followers. She was one of the few brave enough to remain at the foot of the Cross. In purely human terms, one would not expect her to be chosen as the first person to encounter the Risen Christ, and the one to whom Jesus entrusted the message to deliver to the apostles that He had risen from the dead. The world would not have considered her a credible source. And indeed, Luke’s Gospel records the reaction of the apostles: “[the] story seemed like nonsense.” And yet later, she would be vindicated, when Jesus himself appeared in the flesh to the apostles.
This event of the Resurrection of Jesus set off a dramatic change of events in the world that has reverberated down through the ages even to the present day, and will continue to do so until the end of the world. And that is because Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. First, as I mentioned, it is foundational for the entirety of our Christian faith. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, while he would have given the world perhaps a nice philosophy or outlook on life, he would have no real authority to teach and to challenge the status quo of the world, and much of what he taught would be meaningless. But because Jesus has risen from the dead, we can trust that everything he taught is true. So what he taught us about the forgiveness of sins is true – that Jesus, through his death on the Cross, has the power to forgive all our sins. And more than that, that the promise he made to those who follow him that they too would rise from the dead is likewise true. And that this life that we have now is not the only one there is. This life, in which we have to contend with pain and suffering and uncertainty about the future, and in which we live in the shadow of death, will be superseded one day by another, better life in which suffering and death no longer have any power over us.
So when he rose from the dead, Jesus’ promises to us became credible and true. And in doing so, he has given us hope. Hope that there is a better world that awaits us: that this world with its seemingly never-ending crises and cycles of war and violence and suffering is not all there is. Hope that there is an unimaginably better world to come. A world in which we will not lack for anything. We can only speculate on the details of what it will be like, but all our speculation should be hopeful speculation.
And Jesus has also given us the hope that he will make us new, that he will make us like himself. Jesus doesn’t want to just sneak us into heaven as we are now with all our flaws and defects and sinful tendencies; he wants to transform us completely. And he desires to do this, not so that we can just live another and better version of this life up in heaven, but rather so that we can enter into and participate fully in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. Again, we can only speculate as to what this will be like. But we cannot really even imagine it now.
This is the hope that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead gives us. And so today we rejoice because Christ is risen; indeed, he is truly risen.