Sunday, April 23, 2006

2nd Week of Easter - Do Men Die for a Lie?

"He showed them his hands and his side." St. John, 20:20.

"The third day he rose again from the dead." Creed.

Home-town friends in Georgia had persuaded a Civil War veteran to run for justice of the peace. More at ease on the battlefield than on a platform, quicker with bullets than with words, the old soldier was no match for the poise and glib tongue of his young opponent.

At the final mass meeting of the campaign, victory seemed far away from the oldster. Suddenly one of the speakers jumped from his chair and sig­nalled for attention. He rushed to the old soldier, jerked from his pocket an armless coat sleeve, and dangled it in the air. With the other hand he pointed to a wicked scar above the old man's eye, and shouted: "Ladies and gentlemen, behold! Pickett's charge at Gettysburg."

It was the spark to a fireworks display. The crowd threw caps in the air, whistled and shouted, clapped and cheered. The veteran's wounds were more eloquent than words. A wave of votes swept him into office.

More eloquent than words, too, are the wounds of Christ. Fresh from the battle at Calvary, the grime, and blood and spittle washed away, His five glorious wounds now gloriously shine. These five crimson badges are His best recommendation. See these holes in His hands, these gashes in His feet, this gap in His side. Yes­ -

"Ladies and gentlemen! behold! Christ's conquest on Calvary."

That is why we read today that Christ showed the apostles His hands and His feet. They were the evidence that He had really died and that He had really risen. There is the fact, disturbing to some, inspiring to others: a Man, who was also God, rose by His own power from the grave. All human certainty hinges on this truth. In dozens of devious ways unbelieving thinkers have tried to disprove the first Easter. All of us want to be sure: Is it a fact? I, too, want to know.

I run to the cave in the garden in time to hear a bright-robed youth pro­claim: "He is risen, he is not here." In a Jerusalem street I catch the chuckle of a soldier: "Mighty easy money. Yet I don't feel right when people ask me if I was really sleeping on guard." Two steps at a time I dash up to the chamber where hide the disciples. Is it-? The gleam in their eyes, their up-turned, smiling faces fairly shout: "He is risen."

I hurry from Mary Magdalen to the other two Marys, to Cleophas, to St. Thomas, to the seven apostles at the lake, to the apostles on the moun­tain, and back to Jerusalem. Everywhere I see it and hear it and feel it: "He is risen."

But, perhaps these people are seeing things, a vision maybe. Perhaps this Christ never really died, merely swooned, and the cool grave revived Him. Perhaps they actually stole the body, and this risen One is not the Christ. I trail the apostles from town to town, but everywhere and every time the tenor of their talk is: "Christ is risen." They echo and re-echo what St. Paul put so pointedly: "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preacting in vain, and your faith is also vain." (1 Cor 15:14,15).

Years pass. Comes the news that St. Peter is to be crucified head down­ward. I rush to the scene, and stooping to his blood-red face as he hangs upside down on a cross, I whisper breathlessly: "Is it a fact?"

Through a gurgle of blood he murmurs: "What a fool I'd be, if it were not." Ere the axe is laid to his neck St. Paul replies: "Stupid, to die for a dead man." I take my journey to Ethiopia, and as the sword is raised above St. Matthew his answer comes: "Do you think I'd give my life, if I thought it wasn't a fact?" I run beside St. Mark as he is dragged to his death in the streets of Alexandria. "Is it true?" I shout. And he manages to mutter: "I would never go through this for a lie." St. Luke, while the noose drops over his head, gives reply: "It is true or I would not die for it."

Ship and horse speed me and my question to St. John in the caldron of oil, to St. James with his head on the block, to St. James the Less toppling from the tip of the temple, to St. Philip hanging against a pillar, to St. Bartholomew being skinned alive; to St. John genuflecting before the axe, to St. Matthias and St. Barnabas pounded with stones.

"Is it a fact?" I ask.

"Do men die for a lie?" they answer.

The apostles and martyrs died for this Leader; we are asked to live for Him. Time and again men killed Christ and buried Him and rolled huge stones to keep Him buried, but He has such a disturbing and persistent habit of rising from every grave they dig for Him. Strangely, His very death wounds are His greatest glory. Those wounds fired men, women and children without number to follow Him even to death. Those wounds con­vinced St. Thomas. They convince us. They convince the world.

To those five wounds I point this Easter season" and I cry:
"Ladies and gentlemen, behold! Christ's conquest on Calvary."

With one voice we echo Father Faber:
"All hail, dear Conqueror, all hail!
Oh, what a victory is Thine.
How beautiful Thy strength appears.
Thy crimson wounds, how bright they shine."
Adapted from Talks on the Creed
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1946)

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