Just as He Said; He has been Raised

First, there is doubt, then faith.

In a conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, Jesus tells his creatures the great love God has for them, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

In speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus answers the fundamental question of every person.  “What will happen to me after my earthly life has ended?”  For those with little faith in a God who loves them, the thought of dying must be a haunting proposition. Even his disciples, who were with Jesus for three years, initially had doubts about his resurrection.  Their suspicion was changed to belief only after the resurrected Jesus appeared before them behind closed doors. Through God’s providence, St. Thomas was chosen to verbalize humanity’s disbelief by initially rejecting Jesus’ promise of eternal love made known through his resurrection.  

St. John the Evangelist records the events one week after Jesus appeared to the other ten. St. Thomas, who was not privy to the first visit, said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus chastised Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

St. Thomas was not the only one with a deficiency of faith; the other ten also had an earlier crisis of faith. Jesus’ disciples had previously experienced and known death as many had, and when they saw Jesus nailed to a cross and taking his last breath, they concluded that Jesus’ life on earth had ended. The remembrance of their conversations with him about rising from the dead must have made little sense now when they saw his lifeless body taken down from the cross and laid in a dark tomb.

Even the pious women (Mary of Magdala and Mary) who believed in him as the Messiah did not comprehend what rising from the dead meant. How do we know this? Because the two women came to his tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week to do nothing more than show their respect by anointing the corpse of the person they deeply loved. But something remarkable happened instead. Suddenly, the earth violently shook, and in front of them was an angel who told them, “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.”

It is hard for people drenched in sin to believe and accept at first the tremendous outpouring of God’s love. The process of coming to know God and believing in his Son, Jesus, who broke the bond of sin and death, is not apparent at the outset. For so great a love is always hard to comprehend with our mortal minds. But when they finally realized and believed Jesus died and rose for them, they went into every village proclaiming Jesus was the Lord of the living. So convinced they were that they willingly gave up their lives, declaring Jesus’ victory over death.  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting?

Every subsequent generation has come to believe the early disciples’ eyewitness accounts primarily because it answers humanity’s problem: What will happen to me when I die? For those who do not believe, eyewitness accounts are nothing more for them than folly or myth. They claim the answer a person seeks through believing in a Resurrected Christ is wishful thinking. For them, bodily death is the end of their existence. How sad and hard it must be to live without hope by constantly denying the immortality of their souls.  Human beings are not things; they are persons created in the image of God, who is himself eternal and wishes his creatures to share in his life forever.

How dreadful must it be to put all hope in a passing world which can never satisfy the deep longing to be loved? They seek eternal love from false gods who never deliver what they promise. The true folly is settling for mortality instead of eternity. We all doubt sometimes, and our temporary doubt always leads to personal sin. The Feast of Divine Mercy celebrated today acknowledges this human failing by assuring the faithful that even if they have fallen into existential despair at one time or another, God’s love will support and give them strength to believe again in the Resurrected Lord and the hope of their eternal destiny.  

Believing Christ has risen from the dead presupposes that divine love, once given when we were created, will continue even after our earthly journey has ended. No other answer can be given to satisfy the deep desire of every human heart to live and love.  The life-giving words, “he has been raised,” remind us repeatedly that no matter how much evil and death there is in the world, God’s love will always prevail. No matter how many times humanity says ‘NO’ to God, the ‘YES’ of Christ saves us from ourselves and eternal damnation.

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