Updated: Apr 8
The resurrection of Jesus is Christianity’s ground zero. It is also the hardest mystery to fathom, dare I say, to believe. Many are able to accept it simply, as a matter of faith, and I often wish I was one of them. But my spiritual self always seems to be asking “why?” or “how?” Recently I have found the resurrection more accessible by taking it a piece at a time. The first piece is the empty tomb. The second piece is the Risen Christ.
As far as the empty tomb goes, the gospels are far from clear as to just what happened. It began in the dark. The stone had been rolled to the side. Confusion is everywhere. Mary of Magdala seems to have gotten there before anybody else. There was a man she thought at first was the gardener. One account says that Peter enters the tomb, sees the linens that had covered the body of Jesus, but does not understand.
Elsewhere the gospels suggest that only the women were present and that the disciples, who were somewhere else, didn’t believe the women’s story when they heard it. There is no agreement even as to the role of Jesus himself.
If the gospel writers had wanted to tell the empty tomb story in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with a good deal more skill and fanfare. Even though written decades after the fact, they seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is fragmented, shadowy, and incomplete. No one witnesses the resurrection, all we actually have is an empty tomb.
What is by far the most relatable aspect of the resurrection story for me is the impact that the post-resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ had upon his followers.
The apostles transformed from grief-stricken, terrified companions sequestered away in a locked room, to fearless, prophetic, healer-leaders who coalesced into a community with a world-wide mission. They themselves attributed this change to the encounters they had with the Risen Christ, now alive in God.
The accounts of their experiences are clear and distinct. They experienced the Risen Christ individually and in groups, indoors and outdoors, in the Jerusalem upper room, on the lake shore in Galilee, along the road to Emmaus, at an inn, and on a mountain. Some recognized him immediately, some did not.
He passed through walls, sat at table, walked along a road, and cooked breakfast. Across the board he reminded them to carry on the mission. To Mary Magdalen, “Go and tell" (Jn 20:17); to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17); to the disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole of creation" (Mk 16:15).
As Elizabeth Johnson writes: They became aware of his risen presence not with objective sight, the way they used to see him on the hillside before his death, but with insight that drew on their memory of him in light of new revelatory religious experiences. These moments of disclosure may indeed have had a physical component, the disciples’ sight being itself clarified, intensified, given visions by the Spirit to perceive the Risen Christ.
Through the power of the Spirit, the Risen Christ was with the whole community of disciples, indeed with the whole of creation: then, as it is now, and until the end of time.
So, yes, I believe in the resurrection.