To talk about the resurrection we can start with our very own selves. Our hopes can help us appreciate the resurrection.
Who are we? We are humans and we are flesh. We are embodied persons. We are not air. We are not gas. We are not angels. We are not pure spirits. We are persons of flesh and blood. Our experience of our body is quite ambivalent. On one hand we experience our body as something we have, like a tool or a shirt. We feel a distance from our body. Yet at the same time we also experience an identity with our body: “I am my body”. If someone holds my hand that person is holding my hand. That person is holding a piece of myself. But at the same time that person is also holding me.
So there is this experience of distance and identity with our body. When a person dies the body turns into a cadaver. It continues to be a human body but it has stopped all web of relationships with others and the world. It is dead. We have memories of the dead…but the dead is dead and the body is a cadaver.
Still, we make the effort to bury the dead. We do ceremonies and rituals. There is a sense of importance we give even to that dead person—even to that cadaver. But there is probably something more in what we do when we respectfully treat the dead.
We treat with respect the dead. Let us look at the dynamism inside of us when we do this. We just do not want to keep memories of the dead. We assert that somehow….somewhere along the way…we can hope that death is not the end of that person.
A French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, once wrote, “If I love you then you will not die”. In other words my love for you hopes that death is not the end. My love for you does not end, so I continue to expect that my love will continue even after death. Love aims at the eternal.
So many cultures hold on to this respect for the dead, this love and this hope. It is a hope we find little words to explain. It is deep within us.
Let us call this a “transcendental hope”. It is the hope that really life can be fuller and so eternal. It is the hope that the “bad things” that happen to us in life will never win…and that death will never win completely. It is this hope that can make us appreciate the resurrection of Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus is not historical…and it is historical. It is not historical because history (as science) cannot verify that someone who died lived again after. History does not have the competence to say that there is life after death. History is limited to its study of place and time. Life after death is already outside place and time. So we cannot have a claim on the historicity of the resurrection.
Yet the resurrection is historical. It happened to a specific man, Jesus, in a place and time. How do we know that? There are historical traces. What are they? There are the attestations of the Apostles. They said that they saw the risen Lord. They said that they saw him alive again. This affirmation cannot be denied historically. It is historically true that Apostles said that. We can also add that there were many people, especially the early Christians, who have accepted that witnessing of the Apostles. The impact of the experience extended far and wide beyond the circle of the Apostles.
Although we cannot scientifically verify that Jesus indeed had risen from the dead, we can in faith accept it. We can in faith accept the witnessing of the Apostles.
For the Apostles the resurrection was God’s way of raising his son from the dead. It was the eschatological act of God done within history. Jesus was the same man in history, the same man who lived in Palestine in the first century. The risen Lord is the same man of Nazareth. There is a continuity. Yet there is a discontinuity because the risen Lord is not glorified. Yes, he is the same man, the same body, but in a radically new condition.
This can explain why, at first, the Apostles could not immediately identify the risen Jesus. They needed faith to recognize the risen Lord.
There is one theme that is so often mentioned when discussing the resurrection. This is “the empty tomb”. The fact that the tomb was empty does not prove the resurrection. Who knows, maybe someone stole the body.
Yet the empty tomb can generate faith. It can be sign of the resurrection. It can signify that Jesus was not abandoned to the corruption of the body. The empty tomb announces the accomplishment of the eschatology when corruption ceases to win. It is not the definite destiny of the human being.
Finally, there is also the point about Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. That Jesus sitting there is a human Jesus too in full human embodiment. This tells us that “one of us”—a human—is in full communion with the divine. The Apostles saw that thanks to Jesus, as fully human, was elevated to the throne of God, we too can have a share in that communion. That communion is made possible thanks to the risen Lord.