“It is true! The Lord is risen, He has appeared to Simon.”
That’s what the two disciples who, earlier in the day, had been returning to their home in the village of Emmaus heard when they arrived back in Jerusalem with their own tale of meeting the Risen Lord to tell.
No one expected it, not the women who went to the tomb early on the first day of the week to mourn their friend Jesus; not Simon, the distraught Mary Magdalene. Their friend had died, and that was the end of things – death is so final. Their hopes were crushed, their hearts were broken, and they were very much like sheep without a shepherd – lost, helpless, and afraid.
And then it happened, not all at once, but little by little. Mary met him while she was weeping in the garden in which he had been buried. At first she didn’t recognize him, she didn’t until he called her by name. Then, in that amazing moment she KNEW that the one who died now lived.
This has been the preaching of the church from the beginning. Paul, writing to the Corinthians about 20 years after Jesus was Crucified, says “if Christ had not risen, then vain is our preaching, vain too our faith. At the heart of Paul’s proclamation lies the truth of the Resurrection. Paul devoted his whole life to its truth, because only in Christ’s resurrection is his cross revealed to be “the power of God and the Wisdom of God.
So today, more than two thousand years later, in accord with all Christians living and dead, we can proclaim with the first witnesses to the Resurrection: “The Lord is risen, he is risen indeed!”
What these first witnesses to the resurrection experienced was that the one who died on the cross now lives. Not as a spirit or a ghost but as a flesh and blood human being. Their experience of his presence with them after his resurrection was so powerful that it transformed these simple people into passionate believers in the Risen One. Cowards became courageous; enemies (like Saul of Tarsus) became believers; men and women who wanted to live risked their lives and reputations to follow the crucified messiah. None of that would make sense unless they KNEW that he lives. Their faith has been passed down from generation to generation of Christians. We believe because others have shared their faith with us: parents, friends, neighbors. They gave us the gift of faith so we, too, can know that the one who died lives, and with his resurrection we, too, are given the hope that, as Paul put it, death has lost its sting, and is denied its victory.
Jesus, risen, is the first born of many brothers and sisters. We will have our struggles yet, but death will not have the last word. That is resurrection faith. Jesus has conquered the great enemy of life. With his resurrection death itself has died.