This week is celebrated in the Christian calendar as the Easter week, marking the resurrection of Jesus on Easter — yesterday. Even though Christmas for various reasons, particularly commercial, is better known and celebrated with much fanfare than Easter, for Christians it is Good Friday followed by Easter which are the most important days in the liturgical calendar.
Put simply, Easter is the day when Jesus rose from the dead. Belying everything that happened to him on Good Friday when he was brutally maltreated, nailed to the Cross and shamefully left to die there, he came back to life, albeit in another form. On the face of it, Jesus was an utter failure, for he died a criminal’s death, as was the Roman custom to punish a lawbreaker. But faith in the resurrection causes us to believe that Jesus, as he claimed during his own lifetime and as it was foretold about him in the Old Testament of the Bible, was truly the Son of God and that he is alive today.
For any rationalist, such a claim is not only totally unreasonable but also unnatural. There has never been such a case in human history, although there are texts in the Bible where Jesus himself raised at least three people from the dead. Without his resurrection, he would have been just like any other good or great man, who did much good, preached love and forgiveness and had even divine powers to cure the sick and it would have all become matter of history books over time. But the fact that more than two billion people continue to believe in the truth of his resurrection after 2,000 years and go to any length to proclaim that truth is one of the great testimonies of the Easter event. It is no exaggeration then to say that without the resurrection there would have been no Christianity to even talk about.
While faith is an essential ingredient of any religion, Easter for Christians is not just a matter of faith in an extraordinary event that took place aeons ago. Easter is the celebration of the living presence of Jesus Christ in the life of the world, the Church and of individuals. He continues to attract people from all walks of life who go to the extent of renouncing everything to follow him. Mother Teresa found the suffering Jesus in the poorest of the poor and drew strength from his resurrection to do all she did. But she is not alone in that. Christianity boasts of many such saints in its two-thousand-year history.
Philosophers, theologians, scientists, historians, sociologists, artists, believers, non-believers and simple people like you and me through the centuries have been asking and searching for answers to the basic question of human existence and the meaning of life and death. Why is there evil in the world? What happens to us after we die? Is there life after death?
Jesus’ resurrection puts all those questions to rest. By rising from the dead, he overcame death. A conversation recorded in the Bible between Jesus and Martha, whose brother had died and whom Jesus brought back to life, throws light on this truth: “.Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he [her brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
But it is not only modern-day atheists or rationalists who would either doubt or even deny Jesus’ resurrection. His own disciples faced the same problem. The English phrase, “doubting Thomas”, has its origin in the resurrection episode. John’s gospel narrates, “Now Thomas called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came [after his death]. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord’. But he replied, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails have been and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ Eight days later, His disciples were once again inside with the doors locked, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’. Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe’.”
The great apostle Paul, who at one time had persecuted Jesus’ followers, in his epistle to the people of Corinth in Greece expresses his faith in his resurrection passionately: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Easter above all celebrates hope in the midst of darkness. It tells us that the evil of killing an innocent man on the Cross, which brought darkness literally and metaphorically on earth, cannot and does not have the last word and that death has no control over those who believe and follow the path of God. As Paul says again, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Happy Easter.