We live in a time when the words “true” and “false” have divided many of us. What is a fact for some is a lie for others. In many instances, doubt replaces reason. Prove the 2020 election was not stolen. Prove the vaccine is effective and safe. Prove it will be sunny and warm tomorrow.
The same is true in religious discussions. Prove that God exists.
Prove the world was not created in seven days. Prove that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. Prove there is eternal life.
The second testament authors worked hard to prove Jesus’ resurrection. Written after the fact, however, the texts contradict each other in terms of when and where Jesus physically appeared. They do not agree on how many followers experienced him physically after he died, either by touching or speaking with him.
In today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) Jesus appears to the disciples and instructs them to carry on his mission of reconciliation. Thomas was not there and did not believe that his colleagues saw the risen One. He wanted proof. As the episode goes, one week later, Jesus arrives again and Thomas touches him. In conversation Jesus adds, you have seen me, Thomas, but, “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
There continues to be a fascination with post-resurrection stories enhanced by prose, poetry, music and art down through the ages. Even though no one was actually there to witness the resurrection, the stories about the empty tomb, the gardener, the angels, the women, the supper at Emmaus are narratives that evoke faith and imagination.
We want to believe these stories. As Paul wrote “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” (1 Cor 15:14) Given this statement, it logically follows that there would be no Christian church unless the life of Jesus was stimulus enough to inspire his followers to organize themselves and carry on his mission and message.
Most Christians do not worry about the details of the resurrection. On the other hand, theologians and scripture scholars have been obsessed with whether or not proving the raising of Jesus from the dead matters in the real world. One of the most influential theologians of our time, Prof. Hans Küng, who died last week, questioned this doctrine and many others.
Germane to this week’s biblical texts, Küng claimed, for example, one could believe in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life without believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He wrote, “the Easter stories, with their time-conditioned restraints in form and content, are meant to illustrate, make concrete and defend the reality of the new life of the risen Christ.” 1  This statement is something the disciples and Thomas would not have understood. They wanted desperately to believe and imagine what was to them an unbelievable and unimaginable event — Jesus raised from the dead.
Küng continued, “I can believe in the truth of Easter without having to accept as literally true each and every one of the Easter stories.” What really matters according to Küng is the “reality of God” acting then and now. The raising of Jesus then is not about a historical event. It is about an experience of transcending space and time, “a radical transformation into a wholly different, unparalleled, definitive state: eternal life,” wrote Küng.
Theologian Roger Haight adds this thought: “Jesus died into God’s continuous loving, creating, and life-sustaining embrace. Creation and resurrection are not apprehended and affirmed in the same way we perceive worldly events. Resurrection is not something that human beings know about, but an object of faith and hope.” 2  When practiced, these virtues create opportunities for our own transformations.
How then do we, as Easter people, prove our faith and hope now when so many life and death issues confront us? To whom or to what are we giving witness to? How do we give testimony about our experience of the risen Christ walking with us today? The first reading (Acts 4: 32-35) provides us with a model. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Working for the common good, an end to all social disparities, is the mission.
The kind and selfless acts of so many during the pandemic are proof that the majority of people in this country and elsewhere in the world are not filled with hate but love of humanity. Countless persons, whether inspired by the Easter story or some other value system, have joined forces to rescue those among us who are experiencing suffering and death in one form or another. Theologian Ilia Delio wrote: “Easter is the sacrament of a new consciousness, a new awareness of belonging to God, creation and of one another.”
Now, all we have to do is prove it by the way we live.
1 Küng, Hans. Eternal Life:Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem. Trans. Edward Quinn (NY: Doubleday, 1984) 102-03.
2 Haight, Roger. Christian Spirituality for Seekers: Reflections on The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. (NY: Orbis 2012) 246.