If there is any one thing which is the heart of the Christian faith, it is the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ -- His self-raising, His rising again to life after the death on the Cross. The Christian story has no real beginning, because Christ was “Begotten of His Father before all Worlds”. It certainly has no end, as we recognize by our constant ending of prayers with some phrase such as “world without end”. But the Christian story has high points and the very chiefest of these, the keystone of the entire structure, is the Resurrection.
On Easter Day each year we do not celebrate something called: “Easter”. No, “Easter” is only a modern word coming from the name of an ancient pagan Saxon goddess named Eostre, whose rites were celebrated yearly at the vernal equinox. The name has survived but the significance is incomparably greater. What we celebrate on that day is an unbelievable, inexplicable triumph of life over death. Jesus, crucified on Friday and buried in the tomb the same day, rose again to life and showed Himself to the Apostles and others of His followers.
The story is told (with variations) in the final chapters of the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and is recurrently proclaimed as a fact at many places in the Epistles of Sts. Paul, Peter and John. Was it a true and actual event? Christians have always believed that it was. The story is very specific. Witnesses came forward. The authorities, frightened and confused, bribed the soldier guard to tell a false story about it.
Exactly what happened there in the Garden on that morning within the sealed tomb is, of course, wrapped in mystery, for no one was present. The witnesses only saw the result in the form of the strangely spiritual yet flesh-and-blood body of their living, walking, eating and talking Master. We have only the written testimony of these witnesses to go by. That testimony was and is powerful enough in itself. We have only to remember what the event did to their own lives. The Apostles had been rather shallow and ignorant men. They had often demonstrated an inability to grasp the spiritual aims of our Lord’s mission. They had abandoned Him when He died on Calvary. They were frightened, discouraged and lost when He was taken from them to die. Yet, when they accepted the evidence of the Resurrection, they were transformed. They became spiritual giants, absolutely tireless evangelists, and courageous men willing to face and accept death, because they knew and they believed. It was the Resurrection which transformed them.
It is intensely interesting to know that modern researchers are beginning to produce some corroborating evidence. The most intensive, detailed, careful and scientific study of that fascinating material called the Shroud or Turin, the cloth believed traditionally to have been the winding-sheet of Christ in the tomb, begins to yield startling and powerful evidence of what happened on that Easter morning. We can speculate and theorize. It is possible that the Body in that cloth was suddenly galvanized or irradiated (even in this atomic age, we have no wholly satisfactory way of expressing this theory) by a mighty inner and divine force such as had previously operated on the Mount of Transfiguration. Life returned, though in an altered material/spiritual state, the strange new but real body passed through or cast off the shroud and Christ stood resurrected, raised from death to life.
We will probably never penetrate to the heart of this mystery of mysteries. But because it happened, we believe, and are Christians. It is the supreme fact of our faith, giving final meaning to all else. Christ’s death on the Cross was in its way supremely important, also. Yet, is it not true that without the Resurrection the Cross would be nearly meaningless? Had the Cross ended the Lord’s life by eternal death, of what use or meaning would have been His “death for our sins”, His sacrifice of Himself for us? Thanks be to God, the story did not end at Golgotha, but went on to the everlasting life promised us by the Risen Lord. So it is that this event, this Resurrection, has been called “the most illuminating event of history”.
For all Christians, then, there is no joy equal to the joy of the Easter celebration of the Resurrection. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!