“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”
At last we come to the heart of the Christian gospels, the resurrection. Basically, we know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because of the resurrection. If Christ had not risen from the dead he would just have been one more of history’s religious teachers.
For example, Buddha was born in the 5th-6th century in what is now Nepal. After years of meditation he believed that he had achieved enlightenment. Based on this, he began to teach the path to enlightenment. He gained many followers who sought enlightenment and so Buddhism was born. However, whatever good points he had he did not rise from the dead.
It is the same for Mohammed. He was born around 570 AD and he convinced many people that he was God’s final prophet. However, once again he did not rise from the dead.
Much the same could be said of other religious founders. Whatever their virtues, they live and died as ordinary human beings. It is the resurrection that makes Jesus Christ unique.
As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor 15: 12-19):
“Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
Incidentally, one will sometimes hear or read someone saying that the story of Christ’s resurrection is only a myth that was believed many years after the life of Jesus.
However, the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians was written at 55 AD, within 25 years of the life of Christ, in other words, when many witnesses were still alive. This letter shows that the resurrection was believed by all the early Christians, many of whom had been witnesses to the life and death of Jesus Christ and the apostolic preaching of the resurrection.
When we read the accounts of Christ’s resurrection appearances we see that His resurrection body was similar to his earthly body, but it was changed also. He could appear and disappear at will. Closed doors were no barrier to Him. Sometimes when he appeared he was not immediately recognized, even by his closest associates. For example, in Luke 24: 13-31 we see two of Jesus disciples walking on the road to Emmaus after Christ’s death. At first, they do not recognize Him as He walked and talked with them. They only recognized Him when he ‘broke the bread.’ (This points toward the Holy Eucharist. When we receive Communion we will see Christ in the breaking of the bread). See also John 20:19 when Christ appears through closed doors.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
We should remember that in addition to Christ’s resurrection there are other people in the Gospels who were returned to life. For example, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11),
“Soon afterward he went to a city called Na’in, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.
And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.” or the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-42).
“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal’itha cu’mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.”
Finally we have the story of the raising of Lazarus found in John 11:1-46. However, there is a major difference between the return to life of these people and Jesus’ resurrection. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow of Nain all rose to a normal, human life and all died a natural death later. When Christ rose, he rose for eternity. When we rise when Christ comes again we too will rise for eternity, never to die again.
So we see that Christ’s resurrection is the heart of our faith. Of course, we commemorate Christ’s resurrection on Pascha, but every Sunday is a commemoration of the resurrection. We can understand why St. Seraphim of Sarov greeted people through the year with the phrase “Christ is risen, my beloved.”