Resurrection Faith! An Easter Sermon
by Rev. Dr. Noriel C. Capulong
Delivered during the Easter Sunday Worship, April 16, 2017 at Silliman University Church
Scripture Text: Mathew 28:1-15; Luke 24:10-11; John 20:18, 27-29.
Good morning! We are here to celebrate the most defining truth claim of the whole Christian faith. That today, we celebrate and proclaim the fact that the God we worship and serve is a God who is alive and who has risen from the dead.
I said this is the most defining truth claim of our Christian faith in spite of the fact that for so many other people, this event of the resurrection of Jesus comes also as the most unbelievable aspect of the whole Gospel story. Yes, for so many people, the rising from the dead of someone is something too far fetched, too much out of the ordinary that it could only invite skepticism and cynicism on the part of many.
This is quite understandable for the resurrection of Jesus truly violates and distorts one basic reality we know about life, that when death comes, it is total, final and irreversible. If there is one thing the death of a loved one can always remind us of, it is the irreversibility of his/or her passing. Any beloved who has already departed from our midst cannot and will not come back to us anymore.
When my father died many decades ago, when I was still a young boy the family remained for long in a so-called state of denial, telling us, “let’s just imagine that Daddy went on a long out of town trip. Let’s just imagine he is out working on his insurance business in another place, or went on a long seminar in a far away city for educators”. All along we tried to comfort and console ourselves with such thoughts.
As time wore on however, we all realized that his death is something so real and so irreversible already. That finally, we have to accept the fact that our father is not coming back anymore.
Indeed, if there is one thought that the death of a loved one always gives us, it is the thought that death can no longer be reversed. It is final, complete and brings about total separation.
With the story of Easter however, something so awesome is being presented for us to accept and embrace in faith and trust. That, until God says so, nothing is final, nothing is irreversible, not even death.
This is one fact of faith however that can only become real and true for those who believe. For others, this is pure fallacy.
Indeed, a number of biblical scholars consider this event as a major stumbling block in the search for truth. In my own journey however, I find nothing that can challenge at all the truthfulness of what the gospel writers are saying about this event. This is a story that could not have been invented nor fabricated, even if the chief priests had tried to present it as such by way of covering up the story of Jesus’ rising from the dead.
There is no way for the disciples, who were then so disillusioned, so discouraged, so scared, and all in hiding, to come out, go to the tomb and steal the body of Jesus, by rolling away the heavy stone covering the tomb without waking up the guards who were guarding it. There is no way the guards could have immediately identified the disciples as the ones who stole the body of Jesus if they were indeed sleeping as they claimed.
More so, in all the gospel accounts, we see that the very first people who came and discovered the empty tomb were women, Mary Magdalene in John, Mary Magdalene together with another Mary in Matthew, Mary Magdalene, together with Mary, the mother of James and Salome in Mark, and Mary Magdalene, together with Mary the mother of James and Joana in the gospel of Luke. The fact, that each gospel has a different version as to the actual women who really were there together with Mary Magdalene , along with other variations in detail, can only attest to its being free of any attempt to create a polished, uniform, more rationally edited version of the event.
The men disciples themselves just would not believe in the beginning the testimony of these women disciples. They regarded it simply as nonsense, as an idle tale, like plain gossip. Testimonies of women witnesses actually do not hold much credibility even in Jewish courts of law. A fabricator of this story could have used more socially credible sources of the story.
The fact is, the resurrection story is proclaiming not just the truth, and factuality of Jesus’ rising from the dead. It is also proclaiming, against all cultural odds and barriers, the very special and elevated role being given now to women as the very first witnesses and proclaimers of the good news that Jesus is alive, having risen from the dead. It is through the eyes and lips of these women that the myth of irreversibility of death has been destroyed.
It is through the proclamation of these women that hope for renewal was born and stayed on in the hearts of people who heard and accepted it. It is through these women that the hopeless of this world suddenly found a solid basis of hope and for us to proclaim that there is hope even in the most seemingly hopeless conditions in our world today.
Even if the conflict in the Middle East appears to be beyond any immediate resolution, the situation can still be reversed. Even if climate change appears to be becoming irreversible in its damaging effects on our planet, things can still be changed. Even if the wheels of justice for many victims of crime in our society appears to be moving at a snail pace, justice will still be served in the long run. Even if death appears irreversible, this is not final.
And this is mainly because there were those people, like the women in the tomb of Jesus who even with their low credibility and social status dared to speak and proclaim what their eyes have seen, what their ears have heard. We have seen Jesus our Lord alive, guaranteeing a new future, a new tomorrow. Thus, his cause, his mission, his teachings remain alive and even growing and illuminating the rest of the world with his message of hope. Thanks to the bravery, courage, initiative and commitment of these women.
Finally, and this is the most important, you will notice that the accounts of the resurrection, including those of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians tell us that the risen Lord appeared but was seen only by those who believed in him. He was not seen by the guards. The chief priests who invented something to hide the embarrassment that this event is causing the establishment did not see him. He appeared and was seen by the women and then by his disciples most of whom were initially skeptical and had a hard time believing. This is why, there is also the account of Thomas, honestly expressing his skepticism, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Of course, the risen Jesus satisfied all his demands.
But what is more important now for us is the remark of Jesus in this encounter with Thomas. “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We are among those who have not seen the risen body of the Lord Jesus. We are among those who have no more access to the bloodied wounds on the hands and side of Jesus. But this does not make us less fortunate and less blessed than the original disciples.
During my first trip to Jerusalem many decades ago as a student, I was so excited having had the opportunity to visit the very places where Jesus once lived, where Jesus spoke on the mount of Beatitudes, where he stood on the beach of the sea of Galilee and the place where he fed the multitude. And then I came to see and touch with my hands the alleged hole in the ground where the supposed cross of Jesus was planted and the rock where his dead body was placed for anointing before burial. But in reality, that doesn’t bring me any closer at all to the actual presence of Jesus. But, we can be among those who can be more blessed than Thomas.
I have not seen anymore my father since he died. I have not seen any more my mother since she died. But I feel their very life and presence. Their influence, their teachings continue to remain alive in me and keep me going in spite of the various challenges I face in this life. Somehow, they remain to have a large part in whatever I have become today. We may not have seen the risen body of Jesus, but his teachings, his mission, his examples, his love that can redeem, his truth that can set us free, his spirit that can empower, these are all accessible to us, for us to experience in very concrete ways especially as we face the various crisis of our time and history. This is resurrection faith! These alone, are more than enough basis for us to be blessed and to declare that indeed, Jesus is alive, as he becomes truly the Lord of our lives.
A Happy and blessed Easter to all of you! Amen.