The Resurrection. Was It For Real?
By Fr Cyril Desbruslais sj, SAR NEWS
This is the kind of question one can expect to hear nowadays. In this scientific age, where proofs and empirical data count so much, young (and not so young) Christians could perhaps be pardoned for voicing such a radical doubt.
Even some (non-Catholic) biblical scholars seem to give in a bit too easily to the spirit of the age and try to water down the demands of apparent naivety to assert that the Resurrection simply means that “the Jesus event still goes on”, that is, the message of Jesus is believed in, celebrated and lived out by countless disciples of his the world over.
In this sense, one could say that “Gandhiji lives on” in the Bhoodan movement. It would mean that we Christians keep the Risen Jesus alive (not the other way round). I think this is utterly wrong. The Resurrection means he really rose, is alive now, more alive than we are and the Power of the Resurrection will not only be felt by us when we die, but it animates and gives us new life — even now.
Fine. But can we PROVE he actually rose from the dead? Well, some people would only believe it, if there had been TV cameras and tape-recorders conveniently rigged up outside the Master’s grave to capture the event for all posterity (but would such a spiritual event be accessible to such empirical evidence-seeking devices?)…
However, I think we can assemble some kind of proof of the reality of the Resurrection (though not of the verifiable empirical-data kind, as per the demands of the above). Read on.
When St. Paul went to preach the Gospel at the Areopagus, where all the eminent Greek thinkers of the time would meet to dispute and discuss the latest ideas and philosophies (Acts 16:17ff), he at first was given a good reception: his listeners were obviously touched by the story of Jesus’ Life and Passion. But, as soon as he mentioned the Resurrection, they all “burst out laughing” (17:12) and, after polite excuses, most of them went away, shaking their heads. In other words, a mention of the Resurrection COST the early Church the loss of many potential disciples.
We would expect that, therefore, St. Paul and the early Christians, in their preaching, would downplay (if not omit any reference to) the Resurrection. They did just the opposite. I Corinthians 15 is replete with St. Paul’s emphasis on the centrality of the Resurrection for our faith — basically, an EASTER faith.
If the early Christians stressed, as essential to our Faith, somethng that was actually causing them to LOSE potential converts, wasn’t this a sign that they had experienced it as something really real?
Again, all Resurrection accounts emphasise the fact that the Risen Christ first showed himself to women. Now, according to Jewish tradition, the testimony of two men is required for legal validity; that of any amount of women had no legal standing whatever. If the early Christians had invented the whole Resurrection story, why would they have given it such a questionable basis so as to defeat their own purpose?
One could also study the cultural background of the people of that time and show that there was nothing in their background to give them the basic data out of which they could have fabricated such a story.
This is not a proof backed by irrefutable empiricial data, but the kind of argument that historians use to decide whenever an alleged historical incident is credible or an exaggeration or plain and simply a made up story to “sell” a new idea.