Acts 5:12-20; John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen!
Today we continue to celebrate the most fundamental and joyful proclamation of our faith: The resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ on the third day. He is our Pascha, our Passover, from death to life, for Hades and the grave could not contain the God-Man Who shares with us His victory over death. He has made even the tomb a pathway to the glory of life eternal. As He said to Martha before He raised Lazarus, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
When the Savior rose from the dead, He did so as a whole person with a glorified body which still bore the wounds of His crucifixion. He was born, lived, and died with a human body just like ours. Thomas doubted the news of the resurrection because he was not present when the Risen Lord first appeared to the disciples and said that he would not believe unless he saw and touched His wounds. When Christ appeared again eight days later, He told Thomas to do precisely that. Thomas responded by recognizing Him as “My Lord and my God!”
This conversation with Thomas reminds us of the profound importance of Christ’s bodily resurrection to the Christian faith. There is simply no plausible account of the origins of Christianity apart from the Lord’s rising from the dead. He certainly died on the Cross, as Roman centurions were professional executioners who would have lost their own lives for letting a victim escape. The disciples fled in fear at the Lord’s arrest with Peter denying Him three times. They had wanted a Messiah to crush the Romans and bring in an earthly kingdom, not One Who was crucified by their Gentiles oppressors. Inventing a story about the resurrection of a Savior for Whom they would ultimately give their own lives was the last thing they would have done. The women showed great love and courage by going to the tomb in order to anoint Christ’s dead body, which showed that they did not anticipate His resurrection either. The idea that someone would rise from the dead was as outrageous in that time and place as it is in ours. It would hardly be a claim upon which to build a religion, unless it actually happened.
St. Paul taught, “[I]f Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14) The Savior proclaimed His divinity by forgiving sins and saying that He and the Father are one (John 10:30) and that “before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) The high priest asked Him at His arrest, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Christ responded, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14: 61-62) Christ foretold His death and resurrection many times, though the disciples never got the point. If One Who claimed to be God was wrong in predicting His resurrection and simply decayed in the tomb like anyone else, the Christian faith would never have appeared. Gentiles would not be heirs to the promises of Abraham or have any connection to the God of the Hebrews. There would be no Church and no reason for anyone to remember Jesus Christ as anything but a failed Messiah with grandiose delusions.
Orthodox Christian faith is not in warm feelings or sentimental memories about someone who lived a long time ago, proclaimed high ideals, and provided an inspiring example. To proclaim that “Christ is Risen!” is to confess the reality of the God-Man’s victory over death as a whole Person, of His bodily resurrection which is our hope for “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. To quote Saint Paul again, “[I]if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15: 17-19) If Christ did not rise from the dead, then St. Paul was a fool for dying out of faithfulness to Him. He became a Christian only after the Risen Lord miraculously appeared to Him in blinding light on the road to Damascus. Apart from the reality of the Savior’s resurrection, his conversion from a persecuting Pharisee to the apostle to the Gentiles makes no sense at all.
To have faith in our Risen Lord is not, however, merely a matter of making or accepting rational arguments for the truth of His resurrection. Faith is not a form of rational calculation about the things of this world known by reason or sense perception. We do not need faith to accept what we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, like the temperature at which water boils. In contrast, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) Faith is a form of spiritual knowledge, a key aspect of what it means to participate in the life of God by grace. It requires entrusting ourselves to Christ, Who said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” To believe in the Savior is to believe that He is risen. To have faith in our Risen Lord is to share already in His eternal life. It is to know Him, not as an idea or a figure of ancient history, but as a Person in Whose life we participate by grace.
Even as we live in a world of corruption that remains enslaved to the fear of death and in which the dead have not yet gotten up from their graves, we may grow in our faith in the Risen Christ. We do so as we unite ourselves to Him through prayer from the depths of our hearts, opening ourselves to participate ever more fully in His eternal life. We do so as we offer every dimension of our life in this world to become a living icon of the Savior’s victory over the enslaving power of sin. Belief in our Risen Lord is not primarily a matter of words or ideas, but of offering ourselves to Him such that we know and are transformed by a Savior Who is most certainly alive. Otherwise, we could not experience Him.
Remember how the disciples were so radically changed by their encounter with the Lord after His resurrection. He sent them into the world to continue His ministry, which they did with shockingly great power as they healed the sick, cast out demons, and proclaimed the gospel. Had they simply accepted the idea of Christ’s raising without uniting themselves to Him in such life-changing ways, they would not have truly believed in Him. Entrusting ourselves to our Risen Lord requires far more than simply saying “Christ is risen!” To do so with integrity requires offering ourselves to the Savior in obedience such that His life becomes ours. Then we may say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
During this season of Pascha, we must focus on growing in our faith in the Risen Lord by doing all we can to share more fully in His eternal life. That means uniting ourselves to Him from the depths of our hearts in prayer and offering every dimension of our lives to share in the blessedness of the Kingdom. The more we do so, the more we will know Christ as the Savior Who has already made us participants in the joy of His resurrection. Our hope for eternal life will then not be a sentimental wish or an abstract concept, but the fulfillment of our true spiritual encounter with the Lord Who has already shared His life with us. It will be the fulfillment of our personal knowledge of the Savior, Who purely out of love for us, conquered death, Hades, and the tomb in His glorious resurrection on the third day. He alone is our hope for eternal life, for “Christ is Risen!”