Resurrection is a central theme in the Christian tradition and is celebrated every year as the Festival of Easter. There are two important reasons for the place that resurrection occupies in Christian consciousness and worship.
First of all, it is associated with the ultimate destiny of the founder of Christianity himself. ‘Resurrection’means that the life of the first century Jewish rabbi from Nazareth did not end in hopeless failure and that there was something beyond his crucifixion.
Secondly, the mystery of resurrection is something that has given hope to millions of Christians in the course of two thousand years of history. There is more light and life on the other shore, beyond the grave. Faced with the death of their dear ones, generations of women and men have wiped their tears with the soothing thought that the departure of their loved ones was only temporary and that there is a meeting once again. It is enough to observe the Christian burial – grounds all over the world. The many inscriptions on the tombs are proof of the indelible hope in resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus has since been a point of lively controversy. It was triggered off with the polemics between Jesus’ disciples and their fellow Jews.
Different theories were put forward to explain the claim of the disciples that “He is risen”:
- the disciples themselves had stolen the body from the tomb which would explain why it was empty;
- the gardener in whose plot the tomb was located, feared streams of visitors
- to the tomb who would trample his vegetable plants and so removed the body to save his vegetables;
- the “swoon –theory” that Jesus only swooned but he revived in the cool of the tomb and after his revival travelled to Kashmir and died a natural death in old age;
- the whole story was a hallucination;
- if Jesus had risen, to prove that he should have appeared to his enemies and not to his disciples. The disciples of Jesus did not wish the life of their Guru to end in failure and therefore, floated the belief in resurrection;
- that the very incarnation is a myth; it was unimportant what exactly happened on the third day after Jesus was buried. The importance is that, in our spiritual experience of faith, Jesus continues to be a living person and we acknowledge that his message has a universal and abiding validity.
On the contrary, there have been people who have believed in the fact of the Resurrection. In the ‘Acts of Thomas’, there is a story about Thomas, the disciple of our Lord.
King Gundaphorus of India sends a merchant called Abbanes to Jerusalem to find a skilled carpenter and bring him back to India. Jesus came up to Abbanes in the market place and said to him, “Would you buy a carpenter?” Abbanes said “Yes”. Jesus said, “I have a slave who is a carpenter and I desire to sell him”, and he pointed at Thomas at a distance. Thomas was bought by Abbanes and brought to King Gundaphorus.
King Gundaphorus commanded Thomas to build a palace and Thomas agreed. The King gave Thomas plenty of money to buy materials and to hire workforce, but Thomas gave it all to the poor. Always, he told the King that the palace was rising steadily. The King was suspicious and he asked Thomas, “Have you built me the palace?” Thomas answered, “Yes”. “Shall we go and see it?” the King asked. Thomas answered, “You cannot see it now, but when you depart this life, then you shall see it”. At first, the King was angry and Thomas was in the danger of losing his life but in the end the King was won for Christ. Thus, Thomas brought Christianity to India!
There are two types of FAITH – Faith without knowing and Faith with knowing. The latter is often better than the former. Thomas did not want to say he believed when he did not believe, he would never say he understood what he did not understand. There is honesty about Thomas. Thomas would not rattle off a creed without understanding what it was all about.
Resurrection is beyond all human faculties- devotion or emotion; reason or intellect; knowledge or ignorance. It is possible that we may fail to grasp the essence and meaning of resurrection even today. The very familiarity with the episode may prevent us from perceiving the significance and relevance of resurrection. It is here FAITH should help us. FAITH is nothing but absolute belief.
Peter’s words in Acts 2:23-24 echo the above: “This Jesus …you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up…because it was not possible for him to be held by it”. These life affirming words, indeed, came out of their conviction that the very God they served was a God of resurrection.
These words further implied that if God has raised Jesus from death, God has definitely the power to raise up those who are trampled upon, to give dignity to the dispossessed, hope to the hopeless and peace to those in conflict and violence. In the message, Peter spoke to the large crowd of people, for whom life had no meaning, and in that message he declared to them that there was hope beyond shadow of a doubt because Jesus was alive.
This conviction leads the faithful irrespective of space and time to be a community of faith over doubt; hope over despair; peace over violence, and life over death. Life in all its fullness – that is what Resurrection is all about. The real message of Resurrection is not about a distant past or about a new age to come in some remote future. The Resurrection is the affirmation that the transcendent God in Jesus Christ is breaking in into our lives and our times, in ways which do not always anticipate.
It is the proclamation that God’s new age breaks into contemporary history making renewal of life a possibility today. Thus, the event of the Resurrection of our Lord becomes a relevant fact in our lives today as we can become a Resurrected community experiencing life in all its fullness. That is greatest challenge and call of the event of Resurrection of our Lord to the Church and the Bible Societies around the world.