First off, credit where credit is due: yesterday was Fr. Kelly’s first Easter Mass as a priest, and he hadn’t prepared a homily. He learned from a priest in seminary that the less you try and prepare things (like homilies) yourself, the more room you leave for the Holy Spirit to work through you. He was nervous beforehand, since it’s the biggest Mass of the year, but honestly, trusting the Spirit paid off royally. His homily was on the centrality of the Resurrection, using 1 Cor. 15:14 to great effect. Like most great homilies, he dealt with a subject basic enough for the uninformed, but with enough insight that everyone left with something to chew on later. This post is the result of that homily and my chewing. I can’t take credit for most of these thoughts, but I wouldn’t be comfortable simply presenting this as what Fr. Kelly preached — it’s some hybrid of the two.
Anyways, the revelation of the Resurrection is slow and deliberate, and each step is chock full of meaning. Jesus’ Death on the Cross was a “public spectacle” (see Col. 2:15): He had a sign mocking Him above His Head in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, and was killed just outside of Jerusalem itself (John 19:19-20). In stark contrast, no one sees the Resurrection. God chose to do His most amazing miracle in the presence of apparently no one. How, then, do the early Christians come to know of the Resurrection, and what are we being told through this?
John 20:1-2 gives us the very first discovery of the Resurrection:
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put Him.”
Look at that: the first hint of the Resurrection isn’t some glorious sign in the Heaven. Christ reveals His Resurrection first through His absence. When Mary realizes that Christ isn’t where He should be, she’s taken the first step towards understanding the Resurrected Christ. This step is a virtual necessity. Before you can come to a proper relationship in Christ, you need to realize that you have a “God-shaped hole” in your life: that like the Easter Tomb, Someone is missing. As Christians, one of our duties is letting folks know that they’re missing Christ, because that’s where this journey almost always begins.
After Mary relays that Jesus is missing, the Apostles Peter and John take off to the Tomb (John 20:3-10):
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned home.
Mary Magdalene’s first thought was that Jesus was taken by someone: perhaps grave robbers, or perhaps someone faking the Resurrection. But inside, the presence of Jesus’ burial cloth immediately shows this not to be the case. If it had been grave robbers, they surely would taken the burial cloth. In fact, that’s probably the only thing they would have taken. Before the Industrial Revolution, woven linens like these were incredibly expensive. And given the circumstances of Christ’s Death, and the fact that His other garments were already taken (Mark 15:24), it’s unlikely there was anything else of monetary value in the Tomb. The linens would be the most likely thing to be stolen, the Body, the least.
Likewise, if this were the work of charlatans seeking to fake the Resurrection, they would also have wanted the burial cloths. Shortly before His Death, Jesus raised Lazarus from the Grave (John 11). It happened right outside of Jerusalem (John 11:18-19) and was obviously huge news to both Jesus’ disciples and His enemies (John 11:45-47). Someone trying to fake the Resurrection would be trying to mimic the resurrection which had just happened. And yet look how Lazarus emerges from the Tomb (John 11:43-44):
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
So not only does Lazarus leave the tomb still covered in the burial cloth, but others have to help him remove these clothes (a detail we can be sure those people mentioned in conveying the story). The fact that Jesus’ Empty Tomb doesn’t look like Lazarus’ suggests that this wasn’t just someone mimicking the Lazarus miracle.
Above all, it’s far too meticulous. This wasn’t the work of some thief rushing to escape detection by the Roman guards. The two parts of the burial cloth were separated, with the sudarium, the part for His Head, rolled up in the corner (the NIV says “folded up”). So there’s evidence of order, not of hurry. And of course, John Dominic Crossan’s infamous theory that dogs ate the Body of Christ is shattered by this evidence (unless dogs learned to careful remove and fold clothes). Once you consider all of the details: the fact that the stone has been rolled away, that there aren’t any dead guards, and so forth, a picture emerges. The empty Tomb evidences design, and the kind of design pointing to an actual Resurrection. The Disciples quickly realize this, and start treating the Tomb as the site of a miracle, not a crime scene.
Like the empty Tomb, our universe is far too meticulous to be anything but the work of God. I addressed before that the atheist theories for the Creation of the universe make no sense: I’ve mentioned before that Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s theory of the Creation of the Universe requires you to believe that physical laws are the product of the “multiverse,” which arose from spontaneous creation, which is the product of physical laws… which, of course, requires a universe or multiverse (or God) already existing. In other words, within atheism, the multiverse is its own grandfather. Doesn’t work.
Design and reason are at the heart of the classic Catholic case for God. St. Thomas Aquinas showed a long time ago, in his masterful Quinque Viae (with Knox’s excellent summary here), that the universe can’t just be an infinite chain of cause-and-effect. Try to start counting from negative infinity, and you’ll immediately realize that Aquinas’ argument is irrefutable. You need an Actor outside of time and space to be the First Cause. Likewise, the universe is in motion, and must have been set into motion by something other than itself (a universe at rest can’t suddenly go into motion without an external cause). Again, you need an Actor outside of time and space to be the First Mover. Beyond this, the universe is full of beauty. Scientists try and explain this through natural selection: some animals are brightly colored to attract mates or scare off predators. But that doesn’t explain why the stars or mountains are so beautiful, and doesn’t really explain why man is imbued with an innate sense of enjoyment and wonderment at it all.
For the Apostle John, this reason and evidence of design is all it takes to come to faith (“he saw and believed”). He looked at the evidence, concluded that the Resurrection was the most likely conclusion, and believed. It’s striking that John mentions he wasn’t moved to this conclusion by Scripture: “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” It’s true that Scripture affirms the Resurrection, but many folks find themselves in the same position as Peter and John here. There are times it’s best to make the case from reason and design, rather than “Because the Bible says so.”
But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
A quick note on Mary’s faith: throughout all of this, even when she thinks Jesus is dead, even when she thinks someone stole His corpse, she remains faithful, calling Him “the Lord” or “My Lord” whenever she speaks of Him.
This is the final step. We sense internally that we’re missing God, we see evidence of Him in the universe around us, and ultimately, but ultimately, our journey isn’t over until we come to know Him personally. Not only is He “my Lord” to Mary, but look at the beautiful way that Christ reveals Himself: by calling Mary by name. As with the Samaritan woman at the well, in coming to know Jesus, we come to more fully know ourselves. This is for two reasons. First, God knows us more intimately than we could ever hope to on our own, and passages like Relevation 2:17 are beautiful reminders of this fact, and second, since we’re created for relationship with God, trying to understand who we are apart from Him fails every time. You might as well try to better understand the purpose of your car key by removing it from the ignition. Like that car key, our full worth isn’t visible until we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.
It’s not just Mary that Jesus appears to, either. 1 Cor. 15:3-8 describes a number of the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.
What an incredible list. Five hundred Christians willing to say, not only that Jesus is risen, but that He appeared to them specifically. And what’s more, this isn’t even a comprehensive list: He also appeared to the other women who went to the Tomb (Matthew 28:8-10), two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and to the Apostles multiple times. In the process, He proves there’s no other explanation than the Resurrection. The Apostles initially were incredulous, thinking He might be a ghost, but then He took some of their fish and ate it (Luke 24:37-43). That pretty well handles the “ghost” and “mass hallucination” hypothesis. He also showed them His wounds, to prove that it wasn’t some lookalike, and letting them touch Him (Luke 24:39); He separately permitted Thomas to touch His wounded hands and side as well (John 20:27).
This extra step is important. We can show, through reason, that there is a God. But only through Jesus Christ do we learn Who that God is. No longer need we simply rely on our sense that we’re in need of God, or our reason telling us that something didn’t arise from nothing. We can read eyewitness testimony supporting Who God is and what He’s done. This is something which, to my knowledge, only Christianity offers: historical evidence for their claims about God. We know the Romans crucified Christ, we know His Body was placed in a Tomb, we know that His Disciples were publicly proclaiming within a few weeks that His Tomb was empty (Acts 2:29-33), and we know that these same Disciples claim to have seen Him. In fact, that hundreds of people testify to having seen Him. These facts are not in serious dispute, and are well supported by non-Christian sources as well. Yet there’s no convincing counter-explanation of these claims. No one “finds” His Body, or shows evidence of a mass conspiracy. Not one of the Christians who claim to have personally seen the risen Christ reneged, and says it was all some massive and pointless prank. Scores of them undergo torture and death instead.
We don’t have the benefit of getting to bodily meet with Christ in this life, but we do have the benefit of hindsight, the testimony of scores of our forebears about who Jesus was and is, about the fact that He rose, and so forth. The evidence here plainly shows that He is Risen, and moreover, that He is God. Reason proves these conclusions, but faith must accept them.