April 5, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Belief in Jesus’ resurrection

John F. FinkWe are now in the Octave of Easter, the feast that celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. That’s not just a religious belief. It’s an historic fact. Christianity, in fact, is based on that historic fact. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:17).

It’s easy to understand how people without faith can doubt the Resurrection. It just isn’t within our modern sphere of experience. Well, it wasn’t within the Apostles’ sphere of experience either. They refused to believe the women to whom Jesus appeared until Jesus appeared to them and ate with them.

People who don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead must think that the first Christians were awfully naïve to believe such a thing. Either that or extremely clever to be able to concoct such a story, and then sell it not only to their fellow Jews but also to Gentiles all over the world.

The fact that the Apostles refused to believe at first shows that they were not naïve. And Gospel accounts of the Apostles show that they were hardly the type of men who could plan and carry out a gigantic fraud.

It’s true that Jesus had told his Apostles all along that he was going to be crucified and then rise again, but this just didn’t register with them. These were simple men, to be sure, but not gullible or naïve. They just couldn’t fathom that someone could actually rise from the dead.

Jesus appeared to other people besides the Apostles. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, he also “appeared to more than 500 brothers at once, most of whom are still living” (1 Cor 15:6). A lot of people, not just a few, saw Jesus after his resurrection.

The news about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead spread by word of mouth for decades before it was put down on paper. It was Paul who first did that, in a letter he wrote likely in the year 56 from Ephesus, in modern Turkey, to the community he started in Corinth, Greece. This was about 26 years after Jesus’ resurrection, but still probably before any of the Gospels were written.

Some people confuse resurrection with resuscitation. Catholics do not believe that Jesus was resuscitated as were Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain and the daughter of Jairus.

Jesus rose from the dead with a glorified body, one that could pass through the locked doors where the Apostles stayed, one that could appear to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and could just as quickly disappear. And yet it was Jesus’ real body, one that Thomas could touch when he was invited to examine Jesus’ wounds.

Christian faith in the Resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition from the beginning. In the early fifth century, the great St. Augustine wrote, “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.”

Yet it has always been, and remains today, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. †

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