Christ is risen! Indeed, he is risen!

| Father Joseph Hurtuk | March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments
Three women at Christ’s empty tomb and his appearance to Mary Magdalene is depicted in a 14th-century painting from Austria. CNS / Erich Lessing, Art Resource, New York

Three women at Christ’s empty tomb and his appearance to Mary Magdalene is depicted in a 14th-century painting from Austria. CNS / Erich Lessing, Art Resource, New York

The resurrection of Jesus is not only the keystone of our faith, the culmination of the liturgical year and the object of our belief, it is in the Catholic and, indeed, the entire Christian tradition an historical fact. While faith involves a final leap into the unknown, on both the natural and supernatural levels, our Catholic teaching is that it is acceptable and even inspiring to look at the rational basis for the faith. It is not so much that proving a doctrine will automatically cause us to believe in it — knowing that the ability to believe is a grace — but rather that our faith presumes and is based on our rational capacity, which is also a gift from God.

The data for Jesus’ resurrection comes first and foremost from the Scriptures. This revelation revolves around two key events: the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene with the other women, and the appearances of the risen Lord to Peter and the apostles. Let us look first at the empty tomb story.

The oldest version of the discovery of Jesus’ open and empty grave in the Gospels is Mark 16: 1-8. That passage reads as follows:

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’”

Even though this event was not put in written form until about 65-70 A.D., the story of the open and empty grave began to circulate almost immediately after the women’s discovery. Eventually, the women seemed to have overcome their initial fright at such an awesome occurrence, and related their finding to Peter and the apostles.

Having seen the empty grave, and heard the angel’s announcement, the only question remaining was, “Where is Jesus?” St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 gives us the answer:

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

This story of Jesus’ appearances, though not in the Gospels but rather the Epistles, is the oldest written text we have for his resurrection. Again, as in the empty tomb passage, the story circulated orally among the early Christians, and was put in written form about 50-55 A.D. by St. Paul.

What beautiful two passages for our meditation during this most sacred season! Major Catholic Scripture scholars and theologians agree that even though Mark and Paul use their own words and write in their own time, these two passages are historically accurate. Though our faith does not finally depend on rational data and proofs, how much better can we do?

Time to reflect

What kind of Easter reflections for our personal meditation shall we take away from these two texts?

First, regarding the empty tomb, can we visualize the miraculousness of the women’s discovery? Can we share in their fear and trembling by seeing what the grace of God can accomplish? Can we overcome our own fears and inadequacies, as did the women, and witness to the Risen Lord by everything we say and do, both in season and out of season? Can we bring to prayer the reconciliation and grace that such fearless witness involves?

Second, in terms of Jesus’ appearances, can we now see more clearly his real presence in our lives? Can we appreciate more deeply his real presence in the Holy Eucharist? Can we sense the burning motivation in our hearts, as Peter and the Twelve did, knowing that we are his 21st-century disciples? Can we see the Risen Lord walking with us and talking to us every day of our lives?

Whatever the weather outside, in our hearts Easter is a time of freshness, new life, reconciliation and rising from our old selves into something newer and better.

If the Risen One has been gracing us with success and growth, we offer thanks and always hope for more. If our lives have been tainted with difficulties or frustrations or illness, the Risen Jesus promises the strength to withstand and overcome these problems. If our country’s mood looks more negative than positive, the Risen Lord will assist us in changing those negatives to positives, albeit sometimes ever so slowly.

In an attempt to bring our Easter beliefs into actual practice, what is there that one may actually do to appreciate the Risen Jesus’ presence in our lives and the lives of our families?

Needless to say, as Catholics we have countless opportunities. We can be more attentive and less distracted during the reading and opening of the Word and celebration of the Eucharist at Sunday Mass.

Or, one might wish to attend a weekday Mass or two between Sundays to follow the liturgical cycle more closely.

Yet again, we may wish to practice meditation and reflection more proactively by spending time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and eventually even signing up for a scheduled hour.

Whatever we do, all will be well — for Christ is risen, indeed he is risen!

Father Hurtuk is a Marist priest in residence at the Marist parish of St. Louis King of France in St. Paul. He also is adjunct professor of theology in the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas.

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Category: Holy Week/Easter