The reality of the resurrection is the center of our faith. As St. Paul writes, “If Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain.” As the years of life pass, we may find ourselves looking to the resurrection for both hope and consolation. Hope that all the love, laughter and friendship that we have tasted will not be destroyed in death, and for consolation that the sorrow, tears and misfortunes of life will not be the last word. The resurrection gives us the courage to live another day loving generously without fear and courageously soldiering on in the face of struggle and pain. How can we be sure it’s real?
There comes a point in our lives when we are either all in or not. If we are not, we run the risk of never really coming to life. We either believe Christ is alive and is who he says he is or we live in a suspended state of commitment that yields neither peace nor joy. How do we make the leap? The only real answer is that we must each pursue him in prayer. Of course he can come to any of us, like St. Paul, out of the blue when we are not seeking him and then completely transform our life, but these are rare encounters. For most persons it is the quiet, hard and steady commitment of seeking him in the prayer of reading Scripture, inner conversation with God and works of love buttressed with other prayers. It is a matter of making space for God and waiting and watching for his move. He is a divine person and has his own ways.
I remember well when I was moved to the startling conviction that he was alive. It came while studying to be a priest and in some rather normal day of trying to pray. It was not that I did not believe Christ our God was real before then, but rather that he was not a matter of substantial living personal encounter for me. It just happened that he came to me one day, in a very substantial way. All choices of love, faith and sin were now referenced from this experience and others since then. The reality of the resurrection of Christ is affirmed by our own experience of him alive but is also supported by traditional evidence that lies outside of our personal experience. These evidences give us strength in moments of doubt. Here are some of the common evidences that point to the reality of the resurrection.
The reality of the empty tomb; it is empty and they have never found his body. Also, the fact that the disciples proclaimed the resurrection in the time of only three days; moving quickly from radical fear to bold proclamation because they encountered something amazing. The fact that the resurrection was the first thing they proclaimed and not something like the story of the Good Shepherd; they were going with the immediate information they knew. The fact that they proclaimed to have seen him with their eyes and not simply in some sort of dream; and the fact that they depended on the testimony of women whose witness was downplayed in the ancient world.
The fact that they, as monotheistic Jews, proclaimed him ‘Lord’ in a radical divine way after their experience and not simply teacher. The fact that they began to live Sunday as a new Sabbath, because of their resurrection experience, and no longer Friday. Lastly, their willingness to die for Christ because they were convinced he was alive and held the keys of death and eternal life. It is true that none of these prove the resurrection. They do however give support to our own experience of Christ and give encouragement that our faith is not in vain. How are you advancing your relationship with God?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.