We have just celebrated the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, the greatest feast in the Church’s calendar. The greatest, because without it there would be no Christianity. “If Christ be not risen, then our faith is vain!” In fact, the whole of our lives would be a massive waste of time. Moreover, we would still be in our sins and there would be no life beyond this for us, nor the New Heavens and Earth promised us by the Lord. It is indeed a depressing thought. Sometimes, in our darker moments, we may find ourselves wondering if it is all true, whether it’s not just a pretty story... or else that it is, perhaps, a huge imposition on the world.
Of course, since the beginning, people have sneered at the idea of the resurrection and, in recent decades, scripture scholars and even some high-ranking clergy in the established church have tried to explain it away as something purely spiritual, along the lines that the disciples were so bereft after the debacle of Good Friday, that they ‘felt’ quite intensely that Jesus was with them, alive in their memories and such like. This we may say of our loved ones, that they live on in our memories and in the things they did which may outlast them, but that is not resurrection as our faith teaches. The different accounts of the event, told from different viewpoints, can convince us that the Apostles haven’t just cobbled together a story, but that each gives his or her account of what they experienced on that third day when “he rose again according to the scriptures”.
The gospels narrate how in the forty days after Easter Sunday, on a number of occasions, our Lord’s friends encountered him, spoke with him, touched him, ate with him. Here was no wishful thinking on their part, no ghost, but flesh and blood, Christ alive and at large in the world. St John’s account of Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples by the lakeshore is testimony that what happened is real and physical. It is not a matter of spiritual survival or physical resuscitation, but of the conquest of death and resurrection to a new phase of existence altogether.
The stories of the disciples’ encounters with the Master are too vivid to be inventions; besides, the transformation of those frightened men, and the tearful Magdalene, bear witness to something tremendous having taken place, something which gave them confidence and courage to speak.
Last Sunday, we read, as we always do on Low Sunday, the testimony of Thomas. For those of us who find faith difficult, Thomas is a gift, since he says quite bluntly what we might well have thought and said had we been in his shoes that day. We, with our scientific world-view, have been programmed to question everything we are told and so, like the Doubting Apostle, we demand empirical evidence, wanting to see and to touch before we commit ourselves to accept the statement ‘He is Risen!’ But since we are most unlikely ever to experience the appearance of the Lord or be invited to touch his wounds, as was Thomas, we can accept his testimony and, like him (and indeed because of him), make the same act of faith, “My Lord and my God!” and earn thereby, the Beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have learned to believe.”