The earliest gospel account closes with the mystery of an empty tomb. The disciples found themselves at a loss to understand how to move forward without the teacher and friend who had claimed to be the Son of God but died the brutal death of an executed criminal.
Later accounts describe the return of Jesus from the dead, offering anecdotes in which his disciples touch him, walk with him, and share meals with him. It is then, when they have encountered Jesus alive and in the flesh, that Jesus’ followers are able to believe.
For those of us who try to follow in their footsteps, we are again faced with the dilemma of the empty tomb. We do not have the luxury of touching his scarred hands or watching as he breaks bread with us. We struggle with doubt. We fear that the time and energy we have put into following this itinerant carpenter were as wastefully spent as the herbs and perfumes that were futilely plied against the pervasive odor of decay in the place where they laid his lifeless body.
The only chance we have for faith in the resurrection is to find hope where the disciples found it: in the living Body of Christ. And therein lies the greatest challenge of Christianity. For us to believe, Jesus must be physically present in the world, and Christ is only present in the world if we are willing to become him.
Yet for thousands of years the miracle of Easter has repeated itself time and time again. Against all odds, people find ways to rise above their weaknesses, fears, and selfishness to work for a world where the meek, the poor, the merciful, the hungry, and the peacemakers are the blessed, the honored, and the privileged.
We cannot ignore the eternal hope joyfully proclaimed on this day everywhere around the world: “Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών, θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας!” (Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death through death itself.) But we must also honor the miracle that keeps that hope alive and remakes it anew with every generation.
With those who share my religious tradition, I proclaim “Χριστός ανέστη!” – in honor of the risen Son and also in praise of all those who through their faith and sacrifice work to keep the Body of Christ alive and present in the world.
With those of other traditions, I can understand why today of all days the claims of Christianity seem suspect. Time and again the Church betrays its promise and its potential. Even still, I hope that in each of our journeys we will hear the voices that call us beyond the limitations of fear and death. In this season of Resurrection, may we all find ways to keep alive those things that really matter, that allow us to become more than we are even in our dreams, that draw the presence of divine reality into our everyday lives.