The reading is from the gospel according to St. John 20:19-31
As we reflect upon this passage for a few minutes let’s first consider the words of the Apostle St. Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 when he writes “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith also is empty…..and if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!…..if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.”
For St. Paul there was a reality. He was a good pious Jew who thought he had been doing God’s will by persecuting those silly Christians who proclaimed that they had seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion. For St. Paul something drastic happened that changed his life and his very reality fully. His world was shaken to it’s core and he would never again be the same. This reality is the resurrection and appearance of Jesus Christ from the dead.
As Christians, especially Orthodox Christians we must come to full terms with this. The resurrection of our Lord must be a fundamental part of who we are. The belief in the resurrection of Christ is not optional as many people believe. Religion is not a buffet where you can pick and choose only those elements that agree with you. Such a religion is not God centered but self-centered and ego driven. We who call ourselves church must have this belief. If we do not then we are simply here to be entertained or to socialize or we are quite confused. Either the God to whom we pray is truly alive, or he is a dead god such as Krishna or Buddha….they are empty and without power. And while this belief is indeed one that is ultimately taken on faith I would like you to know that ours is a sane and reasonable belief. I would like to mention a few of the facts that surround the resurrection of our Lord.
The first is this…..no other religion has survived that has made such an outrageous claim as this. Plenty of others spoke of resurrection, none of them could deliver. Had this been a single isolated myth, it would have been easy to debunk. It would have been silenced before it even began. One very simple way to silence such a story would have been to produce the corpse of Christ. This should have been no problem at all since the Jewish authorities requested guards at the tomb of Christ to prevent theft. It was also seen to it, that the tomb itself would be left undisturbed. As we are told that Pontius Pilate allowed the stone to be sealed with the Roman seal. Later historians tell us that such a seal was a cord that stretched from one side of the stone to the other with a Roman insignia of wax in the middle to prevent tampering. Anyone found tampering with such a seal was punished by death.
These two facts alone tell us so much about the events which occurred some 2000 years ago in a little corner of the world. But these facts are not alone. We know that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and to the disciples and to over 500 witnesses at once. We are told this by St. Paul who is writing before the gospels had been created. He is so certain of these facts that he says of the witnesses that “The greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” What does that mean? It means that the people who saw Christ are mostly alive….go check with them if you have any doubt!
The next fact that we see is that within a few weeks of the crucifixion there are historical accounts of the rise of the Christian movement. Within a few hundred years we have nothing short of a miracle as the Roman empire that executed Christ is now fully Christian. Lastly we see something that ties in specifically with today’s gospel reading. We see the disciples have encountered the risen Lord and they are trying to convince Thomas. These same disciples will spend the remaining years of their life trying to convince everyone they meet that Jesus Christ is God risen from the dead. They even took this belief to their death as martyrs.
Now let me explain…..People die for things they believe in quite regularly. We die for country and family etc. But if these men had engineered a story then they had died in vain in order to defend this story. Why had the disciples told such a lie? Did they gain prestige, or riches? Did they have the adoration of the masses? NO. They were excommunicated from their places of worship and they lost everything they had to preach the risen Lord. We know that men die for things they believe in, but sane men never die for things that they know to be blatant lies. It is against our nature and even more so when the lie does not provide some sort of benefit to our families. Yet we find that 11 of the 12 disciples were martyred for this conviction in the resurrection, while the other was exiled.
Thomas saw the Lord and proclaimed Him as his God! But Jesus reminds us by saying “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” Are we living as if Jesus has been raised from the dead? Are we living as if Death has been defeated? My brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus Christ is alive because He himself is life, and He wants each of us to share in this life! Glory be to God forever AMEN.