THE DAWNING OF FAITH IN CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ACTS 10:34.37-43; COL 3:1-4 OR 1 COR 5:6-8; JN 20:1-9 ]
Alleluia! This is the cry of joy of every Christian at Easter. This joy is founded on the fact that the Crucified Christ has been raised from the dead by the Father. We can imagine the profound and indescribable joy of the disciples of Jesus when they heard that their master and Lord had come back to life after a tragic and shameful death on the cross just three days ago. Surely, if someone whom we loved deeply and dearly had died, and then later on proclaimed to be alive, our joy would be so indescribable.
Indeed, the resurrection of Christ is an act of the supreme power of God. It is a marvelous intervention of God, as in the Incarnation. This is an out of this world event, the most unimaginable and extraordinary happening in the whole of history.
But is this amazing claim of the Christians true? Are we repeating superstitious stories passed on to us? What is the basis of faith in the resurrection? Is the resurrection faith founded on the Empty Tomb?
Indeed, arriving at Easter Faith is not just a sudden encounter. To see the Risen Christ, we need the conditions that can give birth to faith in the Lord. Without faith, no one can see the Risen Lord. Faith is the eyes that allow a person to see the Risen Lord. When the young man told the women, “There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him”, it requires faith. The empty tomb itself is no proof. One must add, He is Risen. This explains why the Risen Lord was not seen by all except those who had faith. This explains why the RCIA journey takes the people through different stages, from inquiry to catechumenate and to the election, as they need time to study, pray and be initiated into the faith before they are baptized.
In other words, coming to faith in the Risen is a dawning experience. It is so significant that the setting for the Easter encounter was at dawn when everything was still dark and the light was just beginning to penetrate the sky. Mary Magdalene came in the dark but at the early dawn when the light was beginning to shine. So too was Peter who came a while later. They were still in darkness and that was they were still unable to see the true meaning of the empty tomb.
For ourselves too, we might be like the disciples trying to figure out what the resurrection is all about and whether it is true. We want to find logical proofs of the resurrection of the Lord before we can believe. By so doing, we will always remain in the dark because no proofs can suffice unless we see the Risen Lord in faith.
What, then, are the signs for faith in the Risen Lord? The signs are important so that our faith is not an arbitrary faith, or worse still, a fictitious faith. The Empty Tomb provides us the signs as it did for the apostles. Indeed, the stone was rolled away, not so much to let Jesus out, as He, being the Risen Lord, could walk through walls and closed doors, but so that we can enter and see the signs of His resurrection. The impossibility of someone taking away the body of Jesus was clear because the tomb was guarded by the soldiers and it would require a few people to remove the stone.
Secondly, there were traces of the Resurrected Lord that were left behind the Empty Tomb. When they entered the tomb, they “saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.” That the linen cloths were left behind and properly rolled up showed that His body was not stolen in a hurry. It was as if Jesus woke up from His sleep and tidied His bed properly, as most of us do. There is another suggestion that according to the Jewish tradition, a master would fold the napkin when he leaves the table to indicate to the servant that the meal is not yet done and he would be back a while later. Regardless, these are indications that the body of Jesus was not stolen in a hurry.
Thirdly, there are the living testimonies of encounters with the Risen Lord. The fact is that the lives of the disciples were transformed. If they did not encounter the Lord, what could have brought about such a radical change from men of despair and filled with fear to men of hope and courage? No psychological autosuggestion would be possible because if their master had failed in His mission, how could they, uneducated men, seek to do what their master could not, if not for the fact that they saw the Risen Lord! Indeed, this was the testimony of Peter when he addressed Cornelius and his household. (cf Acts 10:39-42)
Not only did they simply claim that they encountered the Risen Lord, the proof was in their transformed life. St Paul says, “If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a man dies, of course, he has finished with sin. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:5-6; 10-11) Their lives were radically changed. From fear to courage, from slavery to freedom, from ambition to service, from death to life. The apostles, like St Paul, were so changed by the Lord that they began to live holy lives in imitation of the Lord.
But faith in the resurrection does not stop at this, they continued to deepen their understanding of what raising Jesus from the dead by the Father implied. Their conclusion was that if the Father had raised Jesus from the dead, then His claims of divinity were true. Thus, they said, “he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.” (Acts 10:42f) Jesus, for them, was therefore the Anointed One of our Lord, the Messiah that was to come to save the people. He was also made Lord to be the judge of everyone at the end of time. Through Him, we have our sins forgiven because of His mercy and love.
We might not have seen the Risen Lord with our own eyes, but we are called to believe like the disciples on the Word of the Angel. (cf Lk 24:5) Indeed, those of us who believe on account of the testimonies of the disciples and all the Christians who have encountered His power at work in their lives too will come to faith in His resurrection. In our time, we have many who have testified to God’s intervention in their lives in miracles, especially of healing and having their petitions answered. We do not seek the Lord in the tombs of the dead. We seek Him among the living. If we were to ask, how can we be sure that the apostles did not deceive us with their stories, or if they had not concocted some stories from the figment of their imagination, then the answer is, when we look at them, are they alive, not just physically but spiritually alive?
If we are still not satisfied and we do not want to rely on secondary sources, we too can encounter the Risen Lord through intimacy in prayer. This is a privileged way to encountering the Lord. This was the case of the beloved disciple John. We read that “the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed.” St John did not see the Risen Lord but upon seeing the signs, he knew that the Lord was risen. This was because John knew the Lord intimately. He could sense from the signs that he saw. Indeed, when we know someone intimately, we can sense the person’s presence or needs even when we do not see him or her. Love knows and understands what reason does not comprehend.
So if our faith in the Risen Lord is still weak, what must we do? We must run with the disciples to see the Lord. Why would they run to the tomb, as if the body of Jesus was still there? Their passionate love for Jesus was what caused them to run to see the Lord. If we want to see the Lord, then we too need to seek Him by strengthening our relationship with Him. We can see Him through the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and Reconciliation, if we prepare and celebrate them attentively and with fervor. We can find the Risen Lord in the scriptures when we read of Him and especially through the preaching of the Church and the teaching of the Magisterium. Finally, we can see the Risen Lord as we reach out to serve Him in the poor, the suffering and the hungry. (cf Mt 25:40) We are called to be witnesses of love and charity and hope for others.
Once we have encountered the Risen Lord, then it will be our turn to announce Him to the world. A clear sign that we have truly encountered the Lord and can sing Alleluia from our hearts, not just from our lips, is when we cannot but be like the disciples in running to announce the resurrection to others. We cannot contain such incredible news in ourselves. We would want to share with the whole world. The lack of the desire to announce that He is risen means that our faith in the Risen Lord is just a cerebral faith, not a personal conviction.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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