“What happened here 2,000 years ago completely changed history.” These words were spoken in earnest innocence by one of the onlookers at the recent work being done on the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. It is a sentiment that sounds obviously true, but is profoundly untrue. The resurrection of Christ did not change history, it revealed history to be what it is: the unfolding of God’s work to restore all things to union with Himself.
Our modern minds tend to view history as some sort of independent series of events. When we study history, we look for causes. We see great generals and economic forces. We frequently ignore almost everything that has taken place throughout most of time. “History” is a story we tell ourselves (and we tell it less and less these days). Generally, what passes for history in our culture is little more than a short collection of clichés, many of which are simply untrue. However, they are told to justify an opinion of the moment.
Lost from sight are the vast millions (billions) of lives that have been lived and the details of their minute-by-minute dwelling on the earth. Huge swaths of humanity are gathered up in phrases like “the Ming Dynasty,” or “the Middle Ages.” The story we call history has it heroes and villains, while the bulk of humanity serves only as the backup chorus to the drama of the “great men.”
The resurrection of Christ is profoundly obscure. Some modern scholars, driven by ideology and bias, have sought to declare that Jesus never existed because they find virtually no mention of Him in non-Christian literature and records of the period. It is an absurd fiction, hardly worthy of rebuke. But it reveals much about how we think about history. “Surely if Christ existed,” they reason, “it would have gained sufficient notice to have been recorded at the time.” The same people, I assume, think that only what they see on television or read in the newspapers has significance today.
Of course, the Church, the gospels, the whole of early Christian literature refute these absurd notions. But the matter of history remains. The resurrection of Christ relativizes all human history. That single event becomes the only event that matters, and all other events, regardless of how innocuous are obscure, no matter how momentous and of great esteem, only have meaning in light of their relationship to that one event.
Christians claim, rightly, that, in Christ, God has become matter. In the resurrection, we equally confess that matter has become God. We may say that creation came into existence for that single moment in space and time and that that single moment in space and time is the cause for everything in creation that has ever existed or ever will.
In Christ, history has not been changed, it came into existence.
St. Thomas, beholding the resurrected Christ rightly said, “My Lord and my God!”