On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.
JOHN 20:1-9 NASB
Today is Easter Sunday, and I think it is the happiest Easter Sunday since my acceptance into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I took an entire week off of work just for Holy Week, and I like to joke that I am probably the first guy there who took a week off just to spend with God. This day is the most important day to Christians because it is the Day of Resurrection. It is the day of our hope. This day is what changed Jesus from just another victim of the Roman Empire, and it is the power of this hope combined with the Holy Spirit that would lead to the conquest of that empire.
This post is not for Christians since they already believe. This post is for the skeptics and the atheists who doubt that this event ever happened. There is one brute fact of life. When people become dead, they stay dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ goes against this brute fact of life. It is understandable why people would doubt. People just don't come back to life. But Jesus was not an ordinary person. I like these words from U2 frontman Bono:
When Jesus died on the cross, the apostles knew then and there that they had been deceived by a liar. They had deluded themselves into believing in a wannabe Messiah who had gotten Himself killed. Now that it was done, they had to fear the same fate as those who had killed Jesus would most certainly mop up the rest of this foolish conspiracy by crucifying the rest of them. Yet, those same cowards would go on and boldly declare that their leader was the Son of God risen from the dead. Now, I know fanaticism can be powerful and delusional, but I don't see such a thing taking hold and persevering to the present day. Philosophies can sweep the world as well as scientific discoveries. But I don't see how a liar and His lies could ever do what they did. Yet, those cowards went to their respective tortures and deaths without a single one recanting. I can see people dying for their country or for an abstract principle like liberty. But who lives and dies for a lie?It’s a defining question for a Christian. Who was Christ? I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying he was a great thinker or great philosopher. Because, actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God or he was nuts. Forget rock-and-roll messianic complexes. I mean Charlie Manson-type delirium. And I find it hard to accept that all the millions and millions of lives, half the Earth, for 2,000 years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter. I don’t believe it.
When I read the Gospels and the letters from these saints, I am struck by their earnestness. St. Peter wrote, "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (2 Peter 1:16 NASB)" In the verses quoted above, the account mentions the burial cloths and the cloth that covered His head. The cloth that covered His head is known as the Sudarium. Here is what it looks like:
The burial cloth of Christ is the famous Shroud of Turin. Here it is:
People doubt the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin because of radiocarbon dating done back in 1989. I was one of those doubters considering the shroud to be just a medieval relic that those stupid Catholics believed in. Since then, I have learned and discovered facts that have changed my opinion of the shroud. I now believe it to be authentic. One of those facts is that the Sudarium matches the Shroud of Turin, and the dating of the Sudarium is not in question.
If the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it is the most clever forgery in history with the forgers anticipating blood typing, photography, and knowing facts about Roman history that only modern archaeologists would discover later. Whoever pulled off this trick was undoubtedly the most brilliant charlatan the world has ever known. But I believe that the radiocarbon dating was done on a bad sample incorporating a repair job on the shroud using cloth from medieval times. You can go here to learn more about this relic.
My faith does not depend upon the shroud's authenticity, but it does spur my faith on to know that the apostles saved and preserved these two items testifying to the crucifixion and the resurrection of their Lord and Savior. The confirmed doubt of St. Thomas also makes me believe more because that guy was committed to not being suckered again. Yet, he believed when he saw the Lord with his own eyes. Or take this passage from the Book of Wisdom:
Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. We see him as a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down; for his kind of life is not like other people's, and his ways are quite different. In his opinion we are counterfeit; he avoids our ways as he would filth; he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed and boasts of having God for his father. Let us see if what he says is true, and test him to see what sort of end he will have. For if the upright man is God's son, God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies. Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his patience to the test. Let us condemn him to a shameful death since God will rescue him -- or so he claims.' This is the way they reason, but they are misled, since their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden things of God, they do not hope for the reward of holiness, they do not believe in a reward for blameless souls. For God created human beings to be immortal, he made them as an image of his own nature; Death came into the world only through the Devil's envy, as those who belong to him find to their cost. WISDOM 2:12-24
I don't know of anyone who reads this passage and doesn't recognize that it is talking about Jesus Christ. But this passage was written at least a century before Jesus was ever born. The first time I read the passage, it gave me the goosebumps.
I was an atheist before I became Catholic. I had lost my faith while a Protestant and became an atheist which lasted for an entire decade. I was an arch-atheist going beyond other doubters in my skepticism. It is one thing to be an atheist from the cradle. It is another thing to have had faith and lost it completely. Yet, when I converted to Catholicism, atheists said that I was never really an atheist. It amazed me that people committed to truth and reason would lie so boldly about me. But I can tell you that I was not a closet Christian masquerading as an atheist. I went through many rough patches and not one time did I ever turn to God for assistance. I did not think He was there at all. Then, when I was confirmed completely in my atheism, God surprised me by being especially good to me. I never asked for this favor from Him. When I believed in Him least, that was when He loved me most. My eyes were opened, and I hardly believe that I could have been so deluded and lost for so many years. But God has a strange way of surprising us.
The resurrection was one of those surprises. Those disciples never saw that coming. St. Paul never saw that blinding vision on the road to Damascus coming either. Every encounter with the Risen Christ is like that. I am convinced that God loves to blindside those who will later live and die praising His name to their last gasp. He delights in our defeat. When you surrender, it is the sweetest loss you will ever have.
But do facts make someone a believer? I don't think so anymore than facts or the lack of facts makes someone a disbeliever. If you told me tomorrow that the Sun went around the earth, it would not make any real or practical difference in my life. This is because not all facts are equal. It is one thing to be told that a woman was killed in a traffic accident. It is quite another to discover that the woman was your wife, your mother, or your daughter. The facts about Jesus Christ are personal in that way. I learn all the time strange and interesting facts about figures from history, but my life goes on unchanged. But the facts about Jesus change your life in an entirely different way.
People have to come to grips and make a decision about this man called Jesus Christ. They have to weigh the facts for themselves and come to some sort of conclusion. The problem is that many people do not want to deal with the aftermath of what this conclusion will bring. But I can tell you what the conclusions will bring. If Jesus is dead, you are dead. Your life and everything in it amounts to a big fat existential zero. But if Jesus is alive and in Heaven, then there is hope for you, me, and everyone else in this messed up world. I have hope. I was in the darkness, but I cling to this hope now. It is really all I have. The strength of this hope comes from the fact that I have despaired of all other paths I have been down. I think this is why Jesus lets us go astray for awhile. We find out how awful it really is being the prodigal, and we come back without reservations or second thoughts.
I put my hope in Jesus Christ. He is the only answer to this world of doom. He is the only reason that life doesn't terminate in the dead end of the grave or the tomb. When Buddha or Mohammed or Nietzsche pull off the same trick, I might give them a listen. But all I hear from those guys is silence.