Jesus died on the eve of the Jewish Passover before the eyes of all those who beheld him hanging on the cross. His lifeless body, soulless, taken down with grief and raw suffering, was buried in a hole in the earth. A large stone was rolled in place to seal it shut. Jesus was gone.
He was dead–an experience all too familiar in the life of each of us. Death! That cruel companion of the living, ever at our side…Should someone we know ever come back from the dead, it would be a difficult encounter–to put it mildly! The angel at the empty tomb needed to give the women the command, Do not be afraid! He has been raised from the dead. That is a message too incredible to comprehend, contradicting every human experience. And so the women were fearful, yet overjoyed; what a confusion of feelings. The women were in profound shock.
Jesus meets them as they leave and they embrace his feet, not wanting to let him go. Do not be afraid, they hear again, this time from Jesus. They need time to adjust to this. Perhaps they remembered the young girl, Jairus’ daughter, who had died; and there was the son of the widow in the village of Nain; and, of course, Jesus’ friend, Lazarus. Jesus had brought them all back to life, but they were nothing like this. Each of those dead had returned to their ordinary lives. But this is totally different!
This time God had done something new upon the earth: Jesus has been raised to eternal life. He is no longer of this world as he had been before. That is all past and a new existence has begun, a new way of being human. Yes, Jesus is the same person but his life is completely transformed, transfigured. He is born anew.
Nicodemus had once asked Jesus, How can you say a man will be born again? Can he return to his mother’s womb and be born all over again? He hadn’t understood what Jesus had meant. No one had understood what Jesus had meant. Now, however, they can see with their own eyes, perceive with their own senses: Thomas, take your finger and examine the holes in my hands…Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!…I tell you, blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.
There are more ways than one to believe. One kind of belief is from experience: we know that water turns into snow or ice. It may also become fog or steam and eventually it turns back into water. That’s something I’ve seen for myself. I also know from photos that the earth is round, though it seems flat enough as I stand on it. I’ve never been to the moon myself but there is photographic evidence from the moon that the earth is indeed round; and I accept the report of the people who have been there and back.
Then there is religious belief. We have the writings of the first Christians and they claim to be witnesses of the great event. Is their witness reliable? There are people who deny that they are and, so, the Gospels are not credible to them. However, there remains another kind of witness in which I can put my trust, a witness I carry within me, my own soul. I hold an inner conviction that life continues after our natural death, an awareness embedded in my consciousness. I can’t explain how life goes on, what it is like after physical death–except for what I’ve read by the witnesses who encountered the Risen Lord. Thomas, Peter and John, Mary Magdalene, Paul–they all tell me something of that experience and so describe that life beyond the grave. But there is something implanted in my soul that says human life goes on. We call that personal awareness with, faith.
We say that our faith is a gift from God; it is not an act of logic or an exercise of reason. Faith is not the result of physical proofs; without faith, Mary Magdalene or doubting Thomas would not have recognized the Risen Lord standing before them. My faith is nonetheless real and certain. By God’s free gift, the Holy Spirit of God dwells within me and the sacraments of the Church strengthens that faith within me. My soul is truly, already touched by God’s own life. Through the practice of prayer and meditation I come to a sense of God in my life and of my life in God. I know that my redeemer lives. I believe.