As Holy Week approaches, a friar offers thoughts on aspects of faith, saying, “What can be proven historically about the Resurrection is the conviction of the witnesses.” This reflection is the Easter section of “The Triduum,” a talk Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, gave at Holy Name College on March 3.
With one voice, the New Testament proclaims that the cross, death and burial of the Lord were public, witnessed and historical events. But these events are only revealed in the light of Easter without which there simply is no Christian faith — If Christ has not been raised our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14). On Easter, the Father exalts His Son in Glory. The New Testament affirms the Resurrection clearly, simply, repeatedly and with unanimity — The Lord has risen indeed (ontos). This Jesus God raised up. It is the bedrock of New Testament faith and in its confession the Church is founded.
With grave apostolic dignity, Paul hands on the early testimony to the Resurrection: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve (1 Cor 15: 3-5).
The Resurrection does not teach that a dead man has returned to life like the son of the widow of Nain or indeed Lazarus himself. The meaning of the Resurrection lies rather in Jesus’ passage, his transitus, to a form of existence that has left death behind once for all (Rm 6:10). Jesus has gone beyond, once for all, the limitations of the present age. In view of this, there is no analogy for the Resurrection of Christ. It uniquely pierces our whole world of living and dying even as it opens a way for us into the everlasting life of God.
Though without analogy, still the Resurrection took place in historical time and space. We can roughly date it and locate it. The tomb where his body had lain is found empty and this leads to the fact that he is no longer here (Mk 16:6).
Within history, however, the empty tomb is an ambiguous fact. The immediate event had no witnesses. The empty tomb cannot substitute for Easter faith that acknowledges here the action of the living God. It is rank understatement to say news of the Resurrection caught the disciples by surprise. In the shorter ending of Mark (16:1-8) his entire gospel concludes on the note of fear before the empty tomb and the calm proclamation ‘he has been raised; he is not here.’ The Resurrection simply lay outside the boundary of what any reasonable person could plausibly have expected. Yet, this is from of old the faith of Abraham who believed that God gives life to the dead (Rm 4:17) and who rejoiced that he saw the day of Christ (Jn 8:56). Resurrection faith is the faith of Abraham possessing the same structure and vitality.
Measure of Everything
With Magdalene, the mother of James and Salome (Mk 16:1-8), we approach this precipice of Resurrection sharing their fear because everything is new. Standing on this precipice, I am no longer who I was or thought I was. Here, nothing familiar calls out to me. I do not recognize the old haunts and markers nor hear the sirens’ call. Where the Lord has passed has become the measure of everything. I die with him in order to pass over with him. In him, I value things differently, searching for the pearl of great price in the fields of the earth, the one thing necessary in all the concrete details of life.
Time itself has changed because Resurrection happened along its duration, on its watch and from within it. By degrees, our fear at the edge of this precipice is broken open. I am no longer a slave to the fear of death and this truth has set me free. And then I find my ego is much diminished, because I no longer live but the Risen Jesus lives in me — the same one who loves me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).
God is faithful to His Word — He has made all things new in raising His Son to life. What can be proven historically about the Resurrection are the conviction of the witnesses and the historical kerygma of the ancient Church.
— Fr. Kevin is director of adult education at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.