The name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin might not ring a bell but many years ago he was one of the most powerful men on earth. A Russian Communist leader, he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917. He was the editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly of Communists. The subject was atheism.
Addressing the crowd, he attacked Christianity, hurling insults and arguments against it. When he had finished, he looked out at the audience. "Are there any questions?" he demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium, but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern.
After surveying the crowd, he shouted the ancient greeting of the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" The crowd stood up and shouted in a thundering voice: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
Amazed and dejected, Bukharin left the stage in silence. He learned that faith in Christ’s resurrection was deeply rooted in his Russian Orthodox communist followers!
Three facts point to the resurrection. First of all, the sudden and inexplicable faith of the disciples, a faith so tenacious as to withstand even the trial of martyrdom.
Secondly, the explanation of this faith that has been left by those who had it, that is, the disciples. In the decisive moment, when Jesus was captured and executed, the disciples did not entertain any thoughts about the resurrection. They fled and took Jesus' case to be closed.
Thirdly, the insistence on the fact of the empty tomb. If it was full, you simply couldn’t proclaim a risen Christ.
However, it is the appearances which testify to a new dimension of the Risen Christ, his mode of being "according to the Spirit," which is new and different with respect to his previous mode of existing, "according to the flesh." For example, he cannot be recognized by whoever sees him, but only by those to whom he gives the ability to know him, His corporeality is different from what it was before. It is free from physical laws; It enters and exits through closed doors; if appears and disappears.
The disciples could not have deceived themselves: They were specific people — fishermen — not at all given to visions. They did not believe the first witnesses; Jesus almost has to overpower their resistance: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe!" They could not even want to deceive others. All of their interests opposed this; they would have been the first to feel themselves deceived by Jesus. If he were not risen, to what purpose would it have been to face persecution and death for him? What material benefit would they have drawn from it?
What does the resurrection mean for us?
First and foremost, belief in the resurrection affirms something profound about Jesus himself. This was, in fact, the first concern of the early Christians and of the New Testament. By raising Jesus from the dead, God ratified the identity of Jesus as God's unique Son and the revealer of God's love for the world. Jesus is proven to be triumphant over death. Therefore love is stronger than death, as the Song of Songs had proclaimed.
Resurrection affirms in a powerful the sacredness of the human body and of the whole of creation. The resurrection commits the disciples to fostering and protecting life in all its expressions as affirmed in Pope John Paul II’s promotion of a "culture of life" to counter the "culture of death."
Sacraments are resurrection realities - transforming human life through the mediation of earth symbols made sacred and powerful by the grace of God. We believe that God's grace and the divine presence are in fact mediated in and through created realities: the water of baptism, the oil of anointing in the sacrament of the sick, the laying on of hands in ordination, the union of bodies in matrimony, the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.
Our spirituality is not detached from nor hostile to the reality of our bodies. Belief in the resurrection of the body also affirms that we are not simply alien visitors to our planet with our true home located somewhere else and therefore being detached from our bodiliness and our essential link to creation itself.
The Christian commitment to justice must be constant, comprehensive and unyielding. But, at the same time, the vision of the Christian expands beyond the here and now to the transcendent world beyond death because of our faith in resurrection.
The quest for liberation from oppressive structures, the striving for an end to violence and conflict, the commitment to alleviate hunger and all forms of human suffering and the full realization of our hopes will be experienced not through any human structure or strategy but only when, through God's power, the final grip of death on humanity and the created world is broken forever and when the human family, body and spirit, lives in communion with the God of Jesus Christ.
Finally, belief in the resurrection of the body should be seen as the most profound affirmation of the enduring value of human love. Fear of death, in many instances, is not a fear of physical suffering but a fear of infinite loneliness and isolation from all those we love. It is through our bodies that we humans relate to each other and to the world we know, and if our body no longer lives we wonder if our love for each other is just as fragile and limited. Belief in the resurrection of the dead and belief in bodily resurrection affirm that indeed love is stronger than death and that the consuming experience of our destiny is communion with a God of love and with all those whose love we have known.
"HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
☩ Frederick Henry