Article 57 Paragraphs 638-647
Father John G. Hillier
The harsh days of winter eventually give way to the pleasant days of spring and summer. Those of us who live in the northeast are hardly ever surprised by the cold weather but we still have a habit of wishing the winter away so we can embark upon the warmer seasons of spring and summer. I recall as a child saying repeatedly, “I wish it was summer”. When I would make such comments my mom would tell me to stop wishing my life away.
My mom made an important point. No matter how often we might say it or wish it, summer could never replace winter. The days of winter must take their course before spring and then summer finally arrive.
The same can said about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The details of his life, then his suffering, had to run their course before his death and glorious resurrection.
Similarly, in imitation of Christ, our lives must run their course, not without suffering and death, before our resurrection.
In the case of Jesus, “the Resurrection … is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community” (ccc 638). In our case, the Resurrection is Christ’s promise to those who remain faithful to the end.
Saint Paul wrote to the Church community in Corinth regarding “the mystery of Christ’s resurrection as a real event” (ccc 639). In 56 A.D. he reminded them: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Throughout the New Testament we are reminded that the Resurrection of Christ is at once an historical and transcendent event. “Christ does not reveal himself to the world, but to his disciples,” (ccc 647) says the Catechism.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” was the question asked of the first witnesses to the empty tomb. “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6) is the answer offered. Referring to this passage from Saint Luke’s Gospel, the Catechism correctly points out that “in itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection (but) … its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection” (ccc 640).
The enduring faith that developed among the first community of believers is based on reliable witnesses known to many of the early Christians. Who were these early witnesses? Mary Magdalene, Peter, James and the other apostles including “the doubting Thomas” are the primary “witnesses to his Resurrection” but Saint Paul also speaks about more than 500 other people to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion. (See 1 Corinthians 15:4-8; Acts 1:22).
The New Testament writings reveal the first witnesses as crucial to the Resurrection narrative. We discover, however, that there were even mixed reactions by the first witnesses. There were doubts about what they had actually seen. Some thought they were seeing a ghost when they saw Jesus after his cruel death on the cross. Others thought it was a hoax. The women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus on that first Easter morning reported that they spoke with a gardener. As Saint Luke puts it, “In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering” (Luke 24:38-41). As the Catechism later says, “Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem” (ccc 644).
On Easter evening, when Jesus revealed himself to the Eleven apostles (minus Judas), “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14). The Catechism explains: “For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an ‘idle tale’” (ccc 643).
It is only “by means of touch and the sharing of a meal (that) the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples” (ccc 645). In this way he demonstrates that “he is not a ghost” and “that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion” (ccc 645). Yet, the Resurrected body of Jesus also “possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills” (ccc 645).
It is most apparent that “Christ’s Resurrection was not a return to earthly life”(ccc 646) as was the case when he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead after having been in the tomb for more than 4 days (John 11:1-44). Nor was it the same as the other “resurrection miracles” that Jesus performed like the raising of Jairus’ daughter to life (Matthew 9:18-26) or the unnamed young man of Naim back to life (Luke 7:11-17). Later these people underwent natural death but Jesus did not. In his risen body, Christ “passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space” (ccc 646).
Technically speaking, “no one was an eyewitness to Christ’s Resurrection” (ccc 647). However, “although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.” (ccc 647).