Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?
Peter proclaims this with unhesitating confidence. He has no doubt. But let’s go back a few weeks to the hours and days immediately following the resurrection of Jesus. Let’s take a few moments to recall these events.
The closest friends of Jesus had accompanied him for three years. They had walked and worked with him. They were a company of friends.
Jesus had revealed to them the reality of God. Previously, good Jews had sought to please and appease God by acts of prayer, worship and good works. In Jesus, God was now their intimate friend, their closest confidant. In the person of Jesus they experienced the greatest love, true intimacy, and profound mercy surpassing all that they had every hoped for or even imagined.
The apostles had heard him preach and seen him perform miracles of healing, feeding and forgiving. They had also seen him raise the dead to life.
On the evening of the Passover these friends gathered. Jesus gave them his body and blood. It seems they understood little of what was happening, and within hours they had denied him, betrayed him and abandoned him as he suffered and died.
One of the central Easter Octave readings reveals something of their feelings after his death as they walked to Emmaus: “our own hope had been that he would be the one to…” But after the death of Jesus it seemed that their hopes had been dashed.
They were already speaking about Jesus in the past tense. Like so many of our own wonderful experiences, their experience of Jesus was being relegated to the realm of history: a great memory, and already they were longing for the next uplifting event.
Then the ultimate happens: Jesus is alive, and with them. He greets them: “Peace be with you.” The hope of all human history plunges into eternally present reality: Jesus is with them and no longer a captive of time and space. His risen presence is not simply that of a resuscitated corpse (as Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus).
Those who had been raised from the dead by Jesus went on to die again. But now Jesus has thrown open the door to full and eternal life to all who seek this life above all else.
The first readings of these post-resurrection liturgies (from the life of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles) show that the disciples of Jesus are totally transformed by this new reality.
Previously they were prisoners to pride and ambition; captives to fear and to death. Now, in their new intimacy with the risen Jesus, and filled with His Spirit, nothing can frighten them. They preach fearlessly and live abundantly.
For the first Christians, their faith is not a chore or an external demand. Their faith is not a burdensome moralism or legalism.
Instead the first Christians allowed themselves to be captivated, overwhelmed, and therefore motivated by their newfound intimacy with Jesus who had passed through the fear and reality of death into life abundant and eternal.
It is a tragic reality, that in the minds of many today who were baptised and raised as Catholic, the Catholic faith is not such a joy-filled experience.
There are many reasons for this including personal choices and a largely hedonistic society. But the Church also takes some responsibility for not communicating the beauty and truth of Catholic faith well to recent generations.
Acknowledging this challenging fact, Pope Benedict has called for a ‘Year of Faith’ to begin in October on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
At the heart of this year, is the call to a ‘New Evangelisation’. This is not primarily about Catholics seeking to share what they have received with the world. The heart of the New Evangelisation is the challenge to use new language, methods and passion to renew contact with those who have been baptised and raised as Catholics, but who now have little (if any) contact with the Church.
This is an exciting and essential and hope-filled project. In this year especially, we seek your assistance in re-presenting our Catholic faith, not only as attractive and life-giving, but as the answer to all the real questions of those who seek to live life fully.
Our preparation for this mission is a personal commitment to experiencing anew the love of Jesus for us, and the presence of Jesus with us in every moment.
Pope Benedict on the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead:
“Now it must be acknowledged that if in Jesus’ Resurrection we were dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern to us. For it would be no more important than the resuscitation of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. For the world as such and for our human existence, nothing would have changed. The miracle of a resuscitated corpse would indicate that Jesus’ Resurrection was equivalent to the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43 and parallel passages), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). After a more or less short period, these individuals returned to their former lives, and then at a later point they died definitively.
The New Testament testimonies leave us in no doubt that what happened in the “Resurrection of the Son of Man” was utterly different. Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it – a life that opens up a new dimension of human existence. Therefore the Resurrection of Jesus is not an isolated event that we could set aside as something limited to the past, but it constitutes an “evolutionary leap” (to draw an analogy, albeit one that is easily misunderstood). In Jesus’ Resurrection a new possibility of human existence is attained that affects everyone and that opens up a new future, a new kind of future, for mankind”. Jesus of Nazareth pp.243-244