Sunday, April 1, 2018

'HE IS RISEN, HE IS TRULY RISEN': a homily for Easter Sunday (John 20:1–9)

            “Christos Anesti!” and the reply is “Aleithos Anesti!”   These 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 our joy at 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. Yet 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.  If one examines the evidence the solid foundations of our Faith appear.  
Let us examine the evidence for the resurrection of our Lord then.  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 four things, four facts. He saw that the guards were gone. He saw the heavy stone was rolled away.  He saw the body was missing and he saw 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 disciple's 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 it affects then it is likely to be true.  Made up stories do not have details that are embarrassing to the storyteller!
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 that the Sepulchre in Jerusalem stood in a graveyard and is, I quote, “almost certainly the tomb of Christ.”  There are no other contenders for that.  The Christian community in Jerusalem remembered where the tomb was even after the Roman’s built a pagan temple on top of it.  That the Roman’s went to the trouble of building a temple there is itself evidence 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 and it mentions the burial.  That creed is now dated to within five years of our Lord’s death.  The embarrassing facts are that our Lord died as a condemned criminal by the most dreadful death the Romans could impose and that his tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very Sanhedrin that had just condemned Him.   
Then there is the empty tomb.  Christ was buried but then the body disappeared.  The apostles, like all Jews, had an obsession with ritual cleanliness and 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.  (There are those who argue they are still not accepted).  The embarrassing fact 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?  He mentions 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 thecentral 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 shameful 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 the disciples 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 and his comfort but also his very life where his mouth is then he must be telling the truth.
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.  

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.  His life was one long revelation of His loving obedience to, and His worship of, the Father.  It reached a crescendo on the cross on Good Friday when He offered all of Himself, His humanity and His divinity, to the Father on our behalf.  It was the completion of His 'YES!' to the Father.  Then came silence, the silence of Holy Saturday.  On the third day the Father gave His 'YES' to the Son by raising Him from the dead and in His resurrection we too rise.
Perhaps the most accessible evidence of the resurrection is us.  If we inform and live 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.  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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