April 22, 2011


Christ has died. Christ is risen

That headline, of course, is part of the proclamation of the mystery of our faith that we Catholics frequently make after the consecration at Mass. It is also what we are commemorating this weekend on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We also profess our beliefs when we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. In the former, we say that we believe that Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. … On the third day he rose again.”

Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, came to Earth as a human being precisely to die for our sins. God the Father sent his eternally begotten Son to Earth to restore the harmony with God that had existed before sin disrupted it.

Jesus sacrificed himself for us. “I lay down my life of my own accord,” he said (Jn 10:17). John the Baptist called him “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29), a prophecy of things to come, because he was sacrificed like the lambs that the Jews offered to God in expiation for their sins. Indeed, Jesus died at the very hour when the lambs were being slaughtered for the Jewish feast of Passover. He was the true Paschal Lamb.

Yes, Christ has died. There is no doubt about that. A Roman soldier pierced his side with a lance to make sure that he was dead and, as an eyewitness wrote, “immediately blood and water flowed out” (Jn 19:35).

After his death, he was taken down from the cross, bound with linen burial cloths and spices, and laid in a tomb. A huge boulder was rolled in front of the tomb and soldiers were assigned to guard it.

However, Christ is risen, the second part of our profession of faith. Jesus conquered death by rising. There is no doubt that Jesus died, but there is also no doubt that he rose from the dead, no matter how many skeptics there might be.

What other explanation could there be for the fact that he appeared to Mary Magdalene and other women, to the Apostles, to disciples on the road and to 500 people at one time?

One explanation proposed is that he didn’t really die. If he didn’t, are we to believe that he awoke in the tomb in a severely weakened condition, somehow was able to get out of the shroud that bound him, had the strength to push back the boulder in front of the tomb without the soldiers noticing it, and then made his appearances as a healthy man?

Or maybe the Apostles just made up the story of his resurrection. That’s hardly likely because all the Jewish and Roman authorities would have had to do would be to produce Jesus’ body.

The fact is that the Apostles refused to believe that Jesus rose until he appeared to them. When the women reported that Jesus had appeared to them, “Their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (Lk 24:11).

All the early Christians knew full well that Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel accounts weren’t written until decades later, but the people who lived at the time of Christ knew it to be true.

The Jewish and Roman authorities didn’t try to deny that the tomb was empty. Rather, they tried to explain it by saying that, while the soldiers were asleep, Jesus’ disciples stole the body. That was the explanation that was still prevalent when Matthew wrote his Gospel: “And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day” (Mt 28:15).

In other words, we are supposed to believe that, after Jesus’ death, the Apostles got together and plotted how they could deceive everyone. Somehow they would have to get Jesus’ body where it was buried and hide it. Then they could claim that he had been raised from the dead and appeared to them. Then they could fan out and preach about Jesus, even while knowing that doing so could mean that they would be killed as Jesus was. How plausible is that?

Yes, Christ has died. Yes, Christ is truly risen!

—John F. Fink

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