Today we celebrate the feast of Easter. We recall that day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. By his rising from the dead, Christ destroys sin and death forever. He liberates us from our captivity. He gives to each of us the promise of everlasting life. In the resurrection we see the great victory of Christ our hero, Christ God and Man.
But, how do we know that the resurrection really happened? We are a people who love scientific evidence. We love test tubes and tape measures. For us to believe in something it has to be verifiable, empirical. For us to believe in something we want to see it, to touch it. Let's look at the resurrection. We have plenty of evidence of Jesus' death. That is verifiable. Even outside of the gospel, there are historical accounts that testify to the death of Jesus. We know that he was killed by the Romans around 2000 years ago outside the city of Jerusalem. There can really be no doubting this. The fact that Jesus died is just as certain to our minds as the death of Abraham Lincoln or the sinking of the Titanic. It is a historical truth. What empirical evidence do we have for the Resurrection? All we really have is the empty tomb. We know that Jesus was laid in this tomb, but now there is nothing there. We would love to have the same empirical evidence, but we don't. All we have is an empty tomb, a negative proof: Jesus should be there, but he isn't.
This is the beginning of our understanding of the resurrection. Jesus died and he should be found among the dead, but he is not. This is the place where we begin our prayer and reflection: Oh Christ who died on the cross, where are you? Where have you gone?
So science and empirical evidence do not take us very far in our search for the resurrection. At best, it can only give us a negative proof: we should see Jesus, but we see nothing instead. This is not sufficient, of course, it is only a start. The same was true for the apostles. Let's look at the case of the apostles. These were the followers of Jesus. These were the ones who said they would go to die with Jesus. But, when the moment came, one betrayed Jesus, all abandoned Jesus, and his closest apostle, Peter, denied him three times. The apostles were terrified after Jesus' death. We find them in the gospel accounts huddled together without direction or focus, like sheep without a shepherd. Yet, when the women go to attend to the body of the Lord they find that he is not there. This doesn't solve their problems, however. It is only when Jesus appears to them, only when Jesus gives them his peace, do they have their fears removed. Only when they see the Lord do they believe. And once they receive the Holy Spirit, this huddled, frightened group, the ones who abandoned Christ in his time of need, gladly marches forth from the upper room to meet their deaths. Once they have seen the Lord, they fear nothing. Each of them would gladly die, rather than deny their faith.
In the lives of the apostles we see the greatest proof for the resurrection. Almost overnight, the apostles go from scared abandoners to faithful prophets and witnesses. Something must have happened! This conversion did not take place simply by seeing the empty tomb. Rather, they saw the Lord. They were not just sitting around thinking pious thoughts, or planning a way to bring Christ's teachings to the world. Rather, they saw the Lord.
Their witness, which is captured for us in the sacred Scriptures and handed down from generation to generation in the Tradition of the Church is the bedrock foundation for our own belief. We would all like to have empirical evidence of the resurrection: we would all wish to see Jesus in the same way the apostles did. But, for most of us we see Jesus in another way. We see him in the Scriptures, we see him in our prayer, we see him in those around us, and most importantly we see him in the sacraments.
When we come here to this altar, when we celebrate this holy Eucharist we see the Risen Christ. Now it is true that we see him in another mode, we don't see him exactly as Mary Magdalene saw him in the garden, but it is no less real, no less true. Jesus Christ, the one risen from the dead, comes to us each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. It is this experience of Christ that fills us with joy, that fills us with faith. But it also comes with a demand. When the apostles experienced the risen Christ, they went out and changed the whole world. They became witnesses to the resurrection by the way they lived their lives. Their faithful witness became the greatest proof for the resurrection. Having experienced Christ in our own lives, especially here at this altar, when we go out the doors of this Church, what kind of witness do we give?