Sunday, April 16, 2017

FOUR FACTS THAT POINT TO THE TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION: a homily for Easter Sunday, (John 20, 1-9)

“Christos Anesti!” and “Aleithos Anesti!” are the greetings among the Greek Christians as they greet one another this morning. ‘Christ is risen!’ and ‘He is truly risen!’.   How do we greet one another?  “Happy Easter”  A bit lame, is it not?  Not exactly a proclamation of the great work of the Lord and the central belief of our Faith is it?  We have contemplated the life, sufferings and death of our Lord and now we celebrate His resurrection but for how many of us does this go much beyond a mere piece of information, something else we ‘kind of’ believe?  It is a common place to disparage the Christian faith today but that only shows the ignorance of those who do not believe.  For if one examines the evidence the solid foundations of our Faith appear. 
Let us examine the evidence.  We have John’s own account.  John tells us that he entered the tomb after Peter and while Peter could not believe that our Lord had risen from the dead he, John, saw and believed.  What did he see?  He saw that the guards were gone, the heavy stone was rolled away, the body was missing and the cloths were rolled up, left behind.
I propose to you that there are four facts that alone point to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection: His burial, the empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances and the disciples belief in His resurrection.  I don’t have the time to go into all the details but there are plenty of reliable videos and books that lay out the evidence more thoroughly than I can.  First though I must tell you about the principle of embarrassment which states that if an account includes facts embarrassing to the community if affects then it is likely to be true.  Made up stories do not have embarrassing details!
It might surprise you that I begin with the fact of our Lord’s burial.  There can be no resurrection without a burial.  How do we know He was buried?  Well even Jewish archaeologists accept, as the recent work on the Holy Sepulchre showed, that the Sepulchre in Jerusalem stood in a graveyard and is, I quote, “almost certainly the tomb of Christ.”  There are no other contenders and the Christian community in Jerusalem remembered where it was even after the Roman’s built a pagan temple on top of it.  That the Roman’s went to that trouble is itself evidence of that we have authentic tomb of our Lord.  We also have multiple independent sources attesting to Christ’s burial.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul quotes an early creed that is now dated to within five years of our Lord’s death.  It mentions His burial.  The embarrassing fact in all this is that the tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very Sanhedrin that had just condemned our Lord.   
Then there is the empty tomb.  Christ was buried but the body then disappeared.  The apostles, like all Jews and indeed our own selves, had a horror of touching the dead, especially someone who had bled to death.  They would not and could not have taken the body and yet no one else had it.  The embarrassing fact in the finding of the empty tomb is that the first people to discover it are women.  These women are listed as witnesses to this.  In first century Israel women were not considered reliable witnesses and some would not even accept their testimony in court.  That they are listed as witnesses is a sign that the story of the empty tomb is true.  Our Lord’s body disappeared.
Thirdly Christ appeared not just to individuals but to large groups of men and women.  The New Testament records the principle names even of the women who saw Him.  As I have just said  women were not considered reliable witnesses so why mention them?  They are mentioned because they had seen the Lord.  These appearances were not visions, for they ate and drank with Him, walked and talked with Him, and even put their hands into His wounds.  Many years later John writes in one of his letters of his amazement at the resurrection.  Paul, in listing those who had seen the risen Lord, including himself, says in passing that many of these witnesses were still alive.  Why does he mention them?  So that they could be consulted on what they had seen.
Lastly the apostles and disciples insisted from the very beginning that our Lord had risen from the dead.  It is the central point of their preaching: Christ died and is risen!  Jews at that time had no expectation of any resurrection before the Day of Judgment.  In addition their understanding of the Messiah was of one who would establish an earthly Kingdom.  The crucifixion and death of our Lord was seen as a contradiction of this.  That’s why the Jewish leaders had pushed for our Lord to be crucified!  Yet these men go out to proclaim that our Lord is the Messiah and the evidence they point to is His resurrection.  In return they were persecuted, tortured and all but one of them was martyred.  The gospel, the message of the death and resurrection of our Lord, brought them toil and suffering.  It separated them from their families and communities and sent them all over the known world and beyond.  It even cost them their lives.  It did not make them famous, nor did it make them rich or powerful.  Yet they continued to assert Christ rose from the dead.  If someone is willing to put not only his money but also his very life where his mouth is then he must be telling the truth.
So the resurrection of our Lord is well attested.  In rising from the dead He did not merely resuscitate.  He did not return to His earthly life.  Instead He no longer hid His divinity but rather He began to manifest it through His Church.  We can experience His life in us by keeping His commandments, repenting and confessing our sins, by putting the gospel into action in our lives and by receiving Him worthily in Holy Communion.  He reveals Himself to those who trust Him and do not put Him to the test.
There are other evidences that support the truth of the resurrection and of our Faith.  I could point to the extraordinarily rapid growth of the Church despite persecution.  I could point to the work of His grace in all the saints down the ages.  I could point to the Shroud of Turin and all the recent work on it that reinforces the belief that it is not only Christ’s shroud but also a witness to the resurrection.  I urge you to research these things for yourselves.  Arm yourselves with the truth of the Faith.  I will recommend just one book, written by an atheist who became a Christian, the Case for Christ by Lee Stroebel.  They’ve just made it into a movie.  That is a book that is well worth reading and study.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the resurrection is us.  If we inform our faith, we will come to understand better what we believe.  As we believe more deeply, we will love our Lord more.  As we love our Lord more we will love our neighbour more and as we love our neighbour more they will come to see that Christ is not dead, He is risen.  Indeed He is truly risen!

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