"The third day he rose again from the dead." Creed.
A well-known western business man some years ago got the idea of founding a world religion, a religion for all men of all nations. Seeking help, he asked a prominent Catholic priest for advice.
"Dear Father:The priest wrote a brief but pointed answer:
Allow me to introduce myself as one trying to establish a Universal Church. I need to know more about your Catholic faith. What position, for example, would your Church take toward such a Universal Religion? Have you any suggestions?
Very truly yours,"
"My dear Sir:That was the way our Lord founded the true Church. The most important event in all history is the one we call to mind today - the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave. Without the resurrection we could not be sure that Christ was the Messiah.
You have undertaken a tremendous task. You flatter me in asking my advice and assistance.
I can give you one sure-fire suggestion: Have yourself nailed to a cross and hang there until you die. Let them bury you. Three days later, or the next day, if you wish, rise from the grave, by your own power without the help of anyone. Your success will be certain.
Very truly yours,"
Without the resurrection we could not be sure that He was the Son of God. Without the resurrection, our preaching and our faith would be in vain. Without the resurrection Christ's teachings would be of no more value than those of Mohammed or Confucious. Without the resurrection the business man in our story could found a religion that would improve on religions in the world today.
But we do know that the resurrection took place. The Bible, which is true history, tells us in six different places all about the first Easter. In addition writers outside the Bible, like the historian Josephus, tell us about this important event.
Allow me to review the story.
About three o'clock on the afternoon of Good Friday Jesus Christ passed away after terrible tortures of every kind. As Jesus was already dead when the soldiers came, one of them pierced His side with a lance. Blood aod water £lowed forth, according to St. John, an eyewitness.
Toward evening a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, obtained Pilate's permission to bury the body. Joseph and another disciple prepared the corpse, wrapped it in linen cloths, anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb. They rolled a huge stone before the entrance. The sepulchre was sealed and guards were stationed.
At dawn of the third day came an earthquake, a radiant angel appeared in human form, rolled back the stone and sat upon it. Struck with terror, the soldiers fled to tell what had happened and to receive money for saying that Christ's disciples stole His body.
A few facts stand out clearly. Jesus was truly dead; Jesus was truly alive on Easter Sunday; there was no chance for fraud or trickery.
Whoevver denies that Jesus really died will have to explain away the tearing of the temple veil, the darkness over the earth, the tremors of the ground, the rending of the rocks, the appearance of the dead - the things which accompanied the death of Christ.
The burial of Christ was also certain. It was open and official, with the governor's permission. There was a seal and there were guards. And we can be sure that the enemies of Christ, they who had heard Him predict that He would rise again, they took every precaution against any deceit or trickery.
There are scores of theories and futile attempts to disprove the resurrection. Not a single one of these so-called explanations does any explaining. The simple facts are plain.
And today, today we celebrate the most important fact: The third day He rose again from the dead. The earth quaked at Christ's resurrection, just as it had trembled at His death. Let St. Matthew tell the story:
"An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and drawing near, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment like snow. And for fear of him the guards were terrified, and became like dead men. But the angel spoke and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord was laid. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen; and behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see him.'" (St. Matthew, 28:2-7).Some of the guards reported all this to the chief priests who paid the soldiers hush money, telling them to say: "His disciples came by night and stole him while. we were sleeping." St. Matthew, 29 :13.
Houdini himself could not have carried out such a trick. No, it was a fact, the greatest, the most thrilling fact in all history, the best-attested fact in all the annals of the ages.
That fact, that reality, that truth, "Jesus rose from the grave," makes us happy today. The fact makes us certain the religion He founded is the true one. That fact gives a thrill and a throb to the greeting we give one another today, the greeting I repeat to all of you from my very heart of hearts: Happy Easter!
Adapted from Talks on the Creed
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1946)