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Jesus is Real to Me – A Mediation on the Gospel for Easter

April 7, 2012 11 Comments

Just about all of the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels present the apostles and disciples on a journey to deeper faith. In stages they come out of the darkness of despair and this world into the light of faith. Matthew’s (28:1-10) account that is read at the Easter Vigil this year, and which can also be read at Masses during the day, is no exception.

Let’s look at the Easter journey that Mary Magdalene and Mary, (likely, Mary the Mother of James and Joses) make out of darkness into light. Mark (16:1) adds that “Salome” went with them. Salome was the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John. From Luke (24:10) it also appears that Joanna, wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward was with them. Hence, though Matthew only mentions the two by name, it would seem that our analysis includes these four women. As these women journey through the events of Easter Morning we see their faith deepen and brighten. In a condensed sort of way, we also see the whole life of the Christian as we, journeying in stages, come to deeper faith and a brighter vision of the paschal mystery that our life is.

Lets observe their journey in four stages.

Stage 1 – Disturbance at Dawn . The text says,

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.

Note that in this first stage, it is still quite dark. The text here says, with hope, that the new day was dawning. The Greek word however properly means as the first day “approached,” or drew on, without specifying the precise time. Mark 16:1-2 that it was very early in the morning, at the rising of the sun – that is, not that the sun “was risen,” but that it was about to rise, or at the early break of day. Luke 24:1 that it was “very early in the morning;” (in the Greek text, “deep twilight,” or when there was scarcely any light). John 20:1 says it was “very early, while it was yet dark” – that is, it was not yet full daylight, or the sun had not yet risen.

So the point is, it is still quite dark, but dawn is near! And all this creates for us who read an air of great expectation. An old Song by the Taize Community says, “Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away!”

Next, there is a great earthquake! Sometimes God has to shake things up to open new doors and new vision. And in our life too, there are often violent shakings. But, remember, we are at the dawning of a new day. In just a few short years we’ll be with God, if we are faithful. And so it is that this earthquake is not unto destruction, but is unto the opening of the tomb that has claimed our Lord, and unto the opening of tombs that have claimed us, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and so forth. This earthquake, frightening though it may seem, serves only to draw these women deeper into the paschal mystery and toward the risen Christ.

Now, note, they haven’t seen him yet or even heard he is risen. There is only this earthquake. But it has a purpose. Yet, for now, it is barely dawn, and things are still very unclear to them..

Stage one: Disturbance at dawn

Stage Two: Declaration: Do Not Be Afraid. The text says,

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Note that the angel summons them to deeper faith. He exclaims, “Do not be afraid.” Now, to most of us this may merely seem a slogan; one we often hear when we are perceived by others as anxious. Frankly, when others say this to us, it is both annoying and unhelpful. But in this case, the Angel presents a basis on which their faith should grow and their anxiety dissipate.

That they should not be anxious or afraid is rooted in the Lord’s promise and in his word. The angel is reminding them that the Lord had promised to rise on the third day, and that he has done, just as he said. The Lord, who had raised others from death, and healed multitudes, has now done just exactly what he promised.

Hence, the angel summons them to grow in their faith by pondering the Word of Jesus Christ and coming to trust in his promise.

The angel also presents evidence to them, the evidence of the empty tomb. He invites them to connect the dots between the promise of Jesus and the present data of an empty tomb.

So, it’s getting brighter, by the power of God’s word and the application of that word to the present situation.

We too must journey through this stage as we become more deeply immersed in God’s Word and apply it to our present situation. As we grow in knowledge and remembrance of God’s promises and his word, our anxiety begins to flee. This happens especially when, like these women, God helps us to connect his word to what is actually happening in our life. We start to notice the empty tombs, the many signs of God’s favor and blessing. Things start to add up and we begin to connect the dots between faith and experience. And as we do this it gets brighter and our faith grows stronger.

Stage two: Declaration: “Do not be afraid!”

Stage Three – Deepening Dispatch. The text says,

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.

Learn by teaching – Having been instructed in the paschal mystery, and grown deeper in their faith, the Lord sends them to inform others. An interesting aspect of teaching is that we often learn more by teaching than we ever learned merely as a student. Hence we grow in our faith as we begin to teach and testify to it. And simply the fact of teaching and witnessing causes us to grow.

But note the text, “Behold, I have told you.” The true faith is received from God, not invented by us. St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing.” Do NOT go and invent your own faith; that is a very bad idea! We receive the faith from God through the Church and the Scriptures approved by the Church. These women have first been instructed by God’s angel, and only after that, are they told to go and tell someone. We too, are instructed by the Church. Our Faith comes from what is heard and we pass on what we have heard.

So, these women are sent. And, as they go, we shall see that they have a great breakthrough. But prior to that breakthrough, they are sent to witness, to proclaim. And this very act for them, and for us, deepens the faith even more.

Stage Three: Deepening Dispatch.

There is one final stage they must attain. For they are still only able to say what others have said, they have not yet personally seen the Risen Lord. That comes next.

Stage Four: The Discovery that is Definitive. The text says,

Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

Here we see an important and powerful stage that, frankly, too many Christians ignore. Note that, in this moment, they go from inference to experience. Inference is a form of knowledge based only on what others have said. But experience, includes personal witness. Experience means that I myself can personally vouch for the truth of what I proclaim. As we have seen, inference is a necessary stage of our faith (do NOT go and invent your own religion). But the Lord invites us deeper to more personally experience the truth of what the Church has always proclaimed and what her Scriptures have always announced.

Inference to experience – These women have heard from the angel, that Jesus is risen, and they receive the teaching with joy. But, on the way, on the road of their life, they come to personally meet the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Suddenly the truth of what they have been taught is made quite personal to them and experienced as real. They have gone from inference to experience. And now, they will tell not only what they have heard from others, but also how they have personally experienced it as true.

We too are invited to do the same. I need to be able to say, “In the laboratory of my own life I have come to personally experience as true all that the Church and her Scriptures proclaim.” I am now a first hand witnesses to Jesus, for I have experienced him personally in my life. I have met him in my prayer and in my experience. He is alive and real to me, and he is changing my life. I have done more than hear about the Lord, I have met him. I do not merely know about him, I KNOW him.

Stage Four: The Discovery that is Definitive.

Do you know the Lord, or do you just know about him? Have you met him, or just heard about him. On Easter Sunday morning we have observed a group of women go from the darkness of this world to the light of the normal Christian life. And what is the normal Christian life? It is to be in living, conscious contact with God in my life and to personally know the Lord of all glory. It is to be in a living and transformative relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Painting above The Resurrection by Annibale Carracci

Comments (11)

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  1. Andrew says:

    “…and did him homage.” Only about three months ago we heard of the three wise men also giving homage to the infant Jesus they found with Mary his mother. Now Matthew’s Gospel ends with women doing the same. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

  2. Dean M. Jackson says:

    Happy Easter!

    By the way, not only did I two weeks ago solve the ‘God Omnipotence Paradox’, I also discovered another seeming paradox involving God and solved it immediately!

    I was reading Professor Edward Feser’s blog titled “Dawkins on omnipotence” (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/02/dawkins-on-omnipotence-and-omniscience.html) and here are my two comments to the blog comment section.

    Comment 1:

    Edward Feser writes, ‘“Sure God can bring S about, since, being omnipotent, He can even make contradictions true!”’. While an interesting response, it still does not fully answer the God omnipotence paradox. Why? If God can make contradictions true, then He still can’t bring S about, which He should be able to do since He is God! But there is something else more troubling about the idea that God can contradict Himself, and that is because God is also omniscient, therefore He would never need to contradict Himself, and this brings us nicely to the answer for the seeming God omnipotence paradox. Remember, God is both omnipotent and omniscient. We therefore ask the question, “Can God create a rock that He cannot lift?” As omnipotent God, He would certainly be able to, but as omniscient God, He would know that He would never have to lift the rock! Where logicians saw paradox using only the concept of God’s omnipotence, no paradox exists when God’s omniscience is introduced. God would know that He would never want to lift the rock, nor ever need to lift the rock!

    Comment 2: Continuing from my last comment on the God Omnipotence Paradox, it has just occurred to me that, in fact, there is one thing God cannot do and that is to contradict Himself. Why? Because God is omniscient and therefore would never want nor need to contradict Himself since He has perfect foresight. It’s interesting that theists would counter the God Omnipotence Paradox by saying God can do everything including contradicting Himself, when contradicting Himself is the only thing God cannot do due to His omniscient nature!

    I would also like to explain how Saint Paul’s affirmation that there were 500 eyewitnesses to Jesus after Jesus’ Roman execution proves that Jesus was the Messiah:

    in 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul says there were 500 eyewitnesses to Jesus after His Roman execution (actually that number would be closer to 2,000 eyewitnesses, since Jewish custom of the day only counted adult males). Well, Paul made this claim while proselytizing outside Judea in the eastern Roman world. Now there were hundreds of Jewish communities residing outside of Judea (25% of the eastern Roman Empire’s population was Jewish!), and Paul also proclaimed the Word of Jesus to the Jews.

    Now, when Paul made this allegation that there were 2,000 eyewitnesses, Jewish Elders in the eastern Roman Empire outside of Judea would have requested clarification on this point from their co-religionists in Jerusalem (it would be their duty to do so), because such a number of eyewitnesses would mean that Jesus was the Messiah (it’s impossible to have 2,000 persons SEE and HEAR the same things, and even more impossible to have those eyewitnesses see and hear the same things for 40 days as Paul’s companion, Luke, attested.).

    When the Jewish Elders in Jerusalem sent letters back to the Jewish communities outside of Judea (again, as a matter of duty), there was no charge that Paul was lying about the eyewitnesses. How do we know this, since there is no documentation of such clarifications from Jerusalem that Paul lied? The absence of clarification documents that were of course sent as a matter of duty (otherwise Jewish communities outside of Judea in the eastern Roman Empire might be converted to what the Jewish Elders in Jerusalem believed to be a blaspheming Jewish Sect) means that those documents affirmed that Paul was telling the truth, otherwise those documents would have been released for all posterity to know that Paul was lying about the 2,000 eyewitnesses, thereby causing a fatal wound to the new Jesus Sect.

    In criminal investigations, the absence of evidence that should exist is also evidence. For example, if you claim your house was burgled, but there is negative evidence of a break in where such evidence would be necessary, the police will then suspect you!

    Christians believe in Jesus not because Jesus said He was the Messiah, we believe in Jesus because of the testimony of the 2,000 eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after His Roman execution. Christianity is a religion based on empirical observation. Jesus knew humans needed to see as opposed to just believe, which is why He came back after His Roman execution, to ensure that all doubters (such as Thomas) would not only believe in Him, but KNOW that He was the Messiah.

    • Bender says:

      God is Truth.

      Therefore, can God make Himself Not-Truth? Can it ever be that Truth = Not-Truth?

      Is God so powerful that He can make Himself Not-God? Is God so powerful that He can do evil? Is God so powerful that He can cease to exist?

      If God is not so powerful that He can make Himself Not-God and do these other things, is the limitation God’s or ours? Do we have a faulty conception of what truth and power mean?

      • Dean M. Jackson says:

        For argument sake, let’s posit that God could change His nature, etc., then that would mean God is not omniscient, since He changed His nature, etc.

    • Dean M. Jackson says:

      Continuing from where I left off in yesterday’s comment, it occurred to me that the Jewish Elders in the eastern Roman Empire would have distributed the clarification documents they received from Jerusalem concerning Paul’s lies to the pagans Paul and Luke were bothering.

      So, such clarification documents would also have been used against Paul by pagans during Paul’s life, and then used again against Christians during the Roman persecutions of the Christians, which began under Nero three years before Paul’s death.

      The fact that these clarification documents weren’t released by Jewish Elders in the eastern Roman Empire, proves that Paul was not lying about the 2,000 eyewitnesses to Jesus’ return.

  3. Howard says:

    This kind of confusion about different ways of “knowing” Christ would not occur in many other languages. For example, German uses “wissen” for “to know intellectually” and “kennen” for “to know through familiar experience”. Wissen is used for facts, kennen is used for people.

    Unfortunately, the way the title of this post is phrased seems weak. We often hear people say things like, “I know that Santa Claus isn’t *really* real, but he’s real to me,” meaning that they choose to pretend that Santa Claus is real in order to invoke some mood or emotion. That is certainly not what you mean here, but the title runs the risk of being misunderstood in that way.

    I have the same criticism, by the way, of the way the Holy Spirit is invoked in the English translation of the Mass. I don’t know how this sounds in Latin or other languages, but to many English speakers, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” will leave the wrong impression; they will think that “so they may become for us” means “so they may become in our imaginations”. I really wish something more like “for our benefit” had been used, which would be much less open to wrong interpretation.

    • Lighten up, Howard, the title is a quote from a song familiar in my parish. People use language strictly and also loosely. In academic settings and other professional settings strict precision is often required and demanded. But I am a pastor not a theologian speaking to doctoral students. In many other places in this blog I have treated of the distinction between Ginosko and Odia in the Greek NT. But as for you, learn to recognize a homily from an article in a theological journal. Whether you like it or not, the demand for precision in settings is different.

      • Howard says:

        I’m not sure why my comment made you so upset, but that was not my intention. At any rate, I am not familiar with the song from which you quoted, so the allusion was lost on me. Perhaps most of your readers know this song, and perhaps not. The diversity in hymnals from one parish to another is probably greater today than it has been at any point in our nation’s past.

        I grew up with a Protestant hymn called “He Lives”. They chorus of that hymn ends with “You ask me how I know He lives: He lives within my heart.” I have often (though not to you, and in fact long before my conversion to the Catholic Church) expressed the same dissatisfaction with that hymn. Too often people who have little or no faith, or a badly confused faith, will say things like, “As long as you remember him, your grandfather lives on in you.” (I’ve heard far too much of such nonsense at funerals, and surely any priest has heard much more of it.) The hymn *sounds* too much like it is merely affirming something sentimental of that kind, rather than making a strong statement about the Holy Spirit descending like tongues of fire and affirming the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. Like too many hymns, it can be given either an orthodox or a heterodox interpretation, and in such cases a surprising number of people will give it the heterodox interpretation. Unfortunately, the confusion between something being personally relevant and being merely imaginary is sufficiently widespread today that there is a danger of misinterpretation which must be guarded against.

        Or possibly you are reacting to the “kennen und wissen” part of my comment. I was actually just agreeing with your last paragraph, and noting that the English language is different in its strengths and weaknesses than some other languages.

        • I was not upset, just amused. There is a another common modern problem to wit many people fail to recognize that speech is not merely denotative, it can also be connotative, analogical, metaphorical, and so forth. There are also modes of speech that are extemporaneous, formal, or informal, and even playful. At some level many moderns get stuck in moving beyond the merely denotative meaning (and even dictionary meanings admit of different definitions). Among other things, this makes us too picky, argumentative and hypersensitive if we do not distinguish properly. Technical precision is important in certain settings such as in the Great debate about homoiusious and homousious yes, sometimes an iota makes a difference. However in ordinary human conversation some leeway is necessary.

          Your analysis of the hymn above may be applying too strictly a denotative meaning whereas a more average (less analytical) listener “gets” what the author is saying. For Christ does not live only in our minds or on the pages of a book, but in our experience and deep in our heart, beyond words. Sentiment has its place and does in fact grasp truth, though it must be carefully distinguished, mere sentiment can obviously mislead as well. You don’t need to read all the things into it that you do.

          Another hymn example comes to mind in terms of the use of language. A well known hymn says, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” Now I have little doubt that the writer of that hymn (Wesley?) meant this as a jibe at the Catholic Church which affirms that Peter is the rock. However, a Catholic can well sing this hymn for in terms of primary causality Jesus is the rock and foundation. In terms of secondary causality Peter and the Apostles are Rock and foundation stones. Scripture affirms both truths which do not contradict in terms of the distinction about causality.

          Finally, in my post you may have missed that I said twice “do not go and invent your own religion.” Hence I do not advocate a merely experiential faith. Rather that, in moving from inference to experience we are able to say that “What the Church has always taught and the Scriptures affirm is true not merely because others say so but because I know so, it is happening in my own life. I am a first hand witness that it is true.”

  4. Greg V. says:

    Father,

    Tardy wishes for a joyous Easter!

    I wanted to comment on your statement, “An interesting aspect of teaching is that we often learn more by teaching than we ever learned merely as a student.” This is very true!

    I have had the opportunity to give talks on several matters in my profession, and in preparing to give these talks I am always amazed at the amount of preparation I have to do. While my work involves daily use of the concepts I talk/teach about, in order to successfully and accurately convey these concepts I often find myself delving deeper into them to resolve issues I previously had not thought about, to anticipate questions or concerns, and so forth.

    To be a good teacher one has to have a very strong grip on the concepts one will teach. In these columns, Father, I believe you are an excellent teacher!

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