I’m a huge fan of ecumenism. I lived in a Muslim country for more than three years, back in my twenties. And I now live in a major U.S. city that includes people of every faith and culture. I consider it a Christian virtue to respect the feelings, philosophies, and beliefs of others, no matter how they differ from my own. It’s clear that, as we respect one another, we build the power among us to effect good change in the world. People who try to live by a set of sacred beliefs will indeed find much in common with others who strive to do the same.
However, in our drive to find what we hold in common with other faiths, sometimes we Christians downplay what is crucial to our own. Last week was Easter week. Easter celebrates an event that created the Christian church: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a defining belief of the Christian faith—even though the church contains within its countless bodies of believers numerous variations on the belief in resurrection.
Please allow me to become a bit theological in this week’s posts, as I try to clarify what it means to believe in, not only the Resurrection, but also in resurrection.
First of all, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Roman military in charge of Palestine at the time. He died and was buried in a tomb already owned by Joseph of Arimathea, who at least sympathized with Jesus and was possibly a follower of Jesus. Jesus’ burial was witnessed by people, including several women who stayed as close as they could while all this was happening. When those same women found the tomb empty three days later, their first response was fear and great distress—imagine how you would feel if the mortuary misplaced the body of your loved one.
Then the appearances began; Scripture references to those are listed in last week’s post.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read this summary:
Everything that happened during those Paschal days involves each of the apostles—and Peter in particular—in the building of the new era begun on Easter morning. As witnesses of the Risen One, they remain the foundation stones of his Church. The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary “witnesses to his Resurrection,” but they are not the only ones—Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles. (#642)
Jesus of Nazareth conquered death by the power of God. This event is at the heart of the Christian faith.
On Wednesday, we’ll see what this implies about the rest of us.