April 13, 2012


We are called to be eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: 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, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (1 Cor 15:1-8).

St. Paul believed that it was of “first importance” to remind the Church of Corinth—and all of us—that there were actual eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our faith is not a matter of speculation. We have the testimony of eyewitnesses to assure us that this life-changing event really happened.

The New Testament provides vivid descriptions of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord, and his subsequent conversion to Christianity.

Without Paul’s eyewitness testimony and his tireless efforts to proclaim the Gospel, our understanding of Jesus’ teaching would be greatly diminished.

Paul’s collected writings and his frequent journeys throughout the Mediterranean region provide an intense, personal witness to the risen Lord.

As head of the Apostles, St. Peter was the first person to inspect the empty tomb. Although St. John’s Gospel tells us that Peter and “the other disciple” were among the first witnesses to the Resurrection, they really didn’t understand what it meant (Jn 20:9). They didn’t have to fully understand. They simply had to believe—and to declare their love for the Lord.

The first person to encounter the risen Lord face to face was Mary Magdalene. She was one of several women who did not abandon Jesus in the hour of his Passion and death (cf. Mt 27:56, 61 and Mk 15:40). Among this group of dedicated women, the place of honor goes to his mother, Mary, the first Christian disciple and the preeminent witness to everything that happened during his brief time on Earth.

Mary’s witness to the risen Christ began when the angel Gabriel first confronted her with the great mystery that was to be the history of our salvation. Her humble and obedient acceptance of God’s will made Mary the first Christian disciple. It also made her the first evangelist, the first person enabled by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the truth of our salvation in Christ.

One of the most popular scenes in the Gospel is the appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples were downcast and disheartened. They left Jerusalem following the horrible events of Christ’s Passion and death, and headed home. They knew that the tomb where Jesus had been buried was found to be empty, but they assumed that was the result of foul play.

Why didn’t they recognize the “stranger” they met along the road who walked with them? St. Luke simply says “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Lk 24:16), but similar stories of the risen Lord’s appearances suggest to us that he was changed—transformed—and, as a result, was not immediately recognizable even by those who had been his closest friends and companions.

One of the original witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus was St. Thomas the Apostle. We all know the “doubting Thomas” story. Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles. He refused to believe that the Lord had risen until he could see for himself. Thomas’s wish was granted, but Jesus admonished him, saying, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).

The Lord was speaking to each of us. We have not seen Jesus with our own eyes, but we believe. We have not touched the nail marks in his hands and feet or the wound in his pierced side. Yet, we are called to be eyewitnesses to his death and resurrection. We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and are called to be evangelists who proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Christ.

This Easter season, let’s set aside all doubt and hesitation. Let’s proclaim the risen Lord boldly and without fear—in our homes, our workplaces and the public square.

—Daniel Conway

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