... since Jesus rose from the dead, life, not death, is the principal category of human experience.
During this Easter season, we are reminded again and again about the activity of the early disciples of Jesus. They were witnesses. They spoke about what they had seen and what they had heard.
And, more than anything else, that to which they gave witness was the resurrection of Jesus.
I invite you to engage for a few minutes in a thought experiment. Imagine that you have a friend. Call him "Jack." Jack, unfortunately, grows ill. You accompany him through his illness. You are there when he dies, and when the funeral director comes and takes his body. You are at the wake. You are at the funeral, and the graveside. You see the casket lowered into the tomb.
Then, a few days later, another acquaintance says, "Hey, I saw your friend Jack this morning. He looks great!"
What are you going to think?
So, first off, you are probably going to think that it is a question of mistaken identity. The acquaintance didn't see Jack. They saw someone who looked like Jack.
Then, if that doesn't work, you may begin to question your own experience. Did I really see him die? Was all of this somehow a dream?
You may even assume that the acquaintance saw a ghost, or had a vision.
You are probably not going immediately to the assumption that, if you go to the cemetery, the grave will be open and empty, the burial garments tossed aside.
But that is precisely the experience of the early disciples. The tomb was open and empty. The burial garments were tossed aside.
No one expected this. No one could process it. A vision? Sure. People see visions and have dreams. A ghost? Maybe. But an empty tomb? Ridiculous! Unless it's true. And if it's true, everything is different. Every assumption about how life works has to be thrown out.
In a world without Christ's resurrection, death is our principal reality. All things are vanity, because all things turn to dust, myself included. But, since Jesus rose from the dead, life, not death, is the principal category of human experience.
If I need not fear death, if Christ, my older brother, is the first born from the dead and has opened to me the way to resurrection and new life, what possibly could I fear? If death can do me no harm, how can anything harm me?
And if nothing can harm me -- no illness, no disaster, no tyrant, no crowd -- I am free. And, if I am free, I am free to tell the world what I have seen. Driven by the experience of the empty tomb and of the Risen Jesus, and empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the early disciples, fearless and bold, go out to change the world by telling everyone that the Crucified One has been raised from the dead.
This is what they tell the world -- their experience of the Risen Lord.
So, how about us, the later disciples? What does the experience of resurrection look like for us? Well, I know that every time I go to Holy Communion, there is resurrection fueled conversion happening in my life. And, especially every time I go to confession, that great sacrament of love. And every time I forgive someone. And every time I pray. And every time I lay down a burden that has been breaking me. And every time that I realize and accept that I am not the most important thing in the universe. And every time I hear someone else's conversion story. And every time I help, in whatever small way, someone who is poor. These are resurrection moments, and they fuel my ongoing conversion.
How about you? What is your experience of the Resurrection?
Whatever it is, as a missionary disciple, your mission is to go and tell everyone. Be bold. Be fearless. Nothing can harm you, not even death.
Father Paul Soper is the Secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship for the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as the Director of Pastoral Planning.