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Phoenix, AZ, United States

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter and Evidence

This morning Katie and I read John 20 together. It is the story of Jesus's empty tomb and his postmortem appearances to Mary and the disciples (including doubting Thomas). One thing I found interesting about the story is that while Mary recognized him when he called her name in the tomb (although she did not recognize him at first), when he appeared to the rest of his followers, the gospel records him as showing them his hands and feet. Of course, it is later noted in the same chapter that Thomas refused to believe it is the Christ (who has indeed returned from the grave) until he has touched his scars. But notice, Thomas wasn't the only one to see his markings (although, perhaps he got a closer encounter since he put his fingers through the holes). What this tells me is that, according to John, Jesus provides evidence of his resurrection to his followers. Note Jesus did not return in some unrecognizable fashion. He didn't return looking like an Eastern Asian lady, or the poster child Caucasian Jesus with long hair as depicted in the West or, God forbid, Judas Iscariot. Though, presumably he could have been embodied in any number of different ways (unless of course, he lacks an immaterial soul). I mean, he could have come in a different body and then talked just like the Jesus they knew and loved. So the question is, why did he show up in the form that his followers were familiar with? Plausibly because people wouldn't have recognized him otherwise and would have found it too incredible to accept that it was really him that had returned from the dead. No, he shows up as himself-- as they knew him. In other words he provides some empirical evidence that he is one and the same Jesus that they saw crucified, hence the revealing of his hands and feet. I find this interesting.

But then in the 29th verse John records these words of Christ: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Of course, the latter group represents the vast majority of believers. But we are not graced with the first-hand evidence afforded to the earliest followers. I must wonder then why the evidence was apparently important for those that knew Christ first-hand (during his worldly existence), but why it is withheld from the vast majority of humanity. What is the point? Is the faith that we are to exemplify in some tension with the having of evidence? Or is it simply evidence of a particular type? That is, empirical evidence? Or at least, first hand, empirical evidence? If so, why? What is to be gained? Can our belief in Christ's resurrection be as confident as those that saw the holes in his hands and feet? Can we believe as wholeheartedly as Thomas who not only walked with Jesus, spoke with him and saw him perform miracles, but also after having seen him crucified and killed, saw him alive again and even stuck his fingers through the holes in Christ's flesh?  

Are we, modern day believers, relegated to a shaky belief in the resurrected Christ? We have heard that Christ was risen from the dead (an otherwise outrageous claim) from the gospels. But can we trust what they tell us? Or is there some means, evidence of a different sort, to believe with sufficient confidence in the radical claim that Jesus rose from the dead?