Mar 30, 2013

The empty tomb

"She saw the stone removed from the tomb . . . "
Reading for Easter morning:
Many Catholics believer that a 14 ft long linen cloth ,which bears a somewhat eerie image of the face and body of a bearded man, is the actual burial cloth used to wrap the dead and crucified body of Jesus of Nazareth after being taken down from the cross 2,000 years ago. 

A new book entitled The Mystery of the Shroud by an Italian professor, Giulio Fanti, of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua, Italy co-authored with an Italian journalist presents some new and very interesting findings on the famed Shroud of Turin. Using the latest methods of infa-red light and spectroscopy, they analyzed the fibres of the shroud.  The test dated the shroud to between 300 BC and 400 AD. The cloth appears to show the imprint of a man with long hair and a beard whose body reveals wounds consistent with the torture of crucifixion. 

But the ultimate question, of course, is the obvious.  Is this a mysteriously imprinted image of Jesus of Nazareth?  And if so, we then know what he looked like and a careful artist and forensic scientists could certainly produce an image of what Jesus looked like in life.  That in itself would be an amazing discovery and we would obviously wonder how the image was imprinted because that question has been answered only through theory. One theory states that the image was caused by some sort of burst of radiation but that is only conjecture.

If there was a way to definitively prove that this indeed is Jesus we see on that cloth, then it proves one thing – that he was crucified and suffered a humiliating agonizing death; that the man shown on the shroud is indeed dead after suffering terrible torture.

So, we might say with a real conviction that Jesus died on the cross as the Gospels tell us. But – what about the rest?  For the next 50 days the truth we mark – the Resurrection of this man from the dead is a time to stand on the foundation of Christian faith.  Does the shroud prove that Jesus rose from the dead?  Not exactly – but it doesn’t disprove it either.

The core Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, God himself come among us, and that the crucified body of Jesus did indeed not just come back to life but came back to life in a way that forever changed the lives of those who saw him.  Those who saw him, touched him, ate with him went from fear to courage, from despair to hope, and from sadness to joy.  These emotions were not just temporary but the encounter with the risen Christ was transforming. 

In the Gospel story from the Easter Vigil Mass Lk 24: 1-12, we do not see the risen Christ.  However, we hear of a stone rolled away from the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid and we hear of two angels who ask the women who had come to anoint his body according to Jewish burial practice: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here but he has been raised.”

That message is carried to the Apostles, who are skeptical to say the least, except for Peter who runs to the tomb and is amazed at what he finds.  But no Jesus – only the word of others.  Only the witness of others is presented for our consideration.

In an age that presents many truths to us but resists conceding anything that is “the” truth, the resurrection of Christ challenges us to believe that he is “THE” truth. And that if he is “the” truth, then our faith in him can be transforming as the experience of the risen Christ was for those who witnessed: Peter, and the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and even the somewhat skeptical Apostle, Thomas. Our faith and our truth is the same as the early Christians who heard the Apostles preach to them about who they saw and came to believe in. 

Our faith is the same as that of Saul of Tarsus, a sworn enemy of the Christians, who was literally knocked down and confronted with the voice of the risen Christ who questioned why he was persecuting his followers and in so doing was persecuting him.

Our faith is the same as countless Christian martyrs who were and are so convinced that who they believe in is worth preserving more than their own lives.

In the resurrection we move from the Jesus of history to the Christ of faith.  If we live only in the world of science, technology and measured proof, the resurrection is pretty much a fairy tale or a sign of desperate hope. 

But if we move in to the world of the Apostles, the early Christians, the martyrs, and the Saints, then Jesus’ power to change our lives to become more like his own is a conviction and “the” truth worth even dying for. 

We hear these days much about a “new evangelization” of the Church.  Blessed Pope John Paul II, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of it and now certainly Pope Francis is reminding us what it may look like and what we, as a people of “the” truth should do.

What we hear is that as people of the resurrection we are called to mission.  To carry this good news out to the world around us by our example and our conviction.  If that sounds familiar it is what the Apostles did and the martyrs and saints teach us about Jesus the risen Lord who is “the” way, “the” truth and “the” life.

The new evangelization, in this year of Faith that the Church marks, is described by one of the present leading writers on the Catholic Church, George Weigel, in his recent book: Evangelical Catholicism.   

He tells us: “The Gospel centered Evangelical Catholicism of the future will send all the people of the Church into mission territory every day . . . Evangelical Catholicism unapologetically proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the truth of the world.”

We begin in our faith home – our parish and community which is mission territory for us all. Then we move to the sacraments where we encounter the living Christ in the waters of Baptism, the anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and the food of the Eucharist which is that of Christ himself.  In Reconciliation we find the merciful and forgiving Christ, in anointing the sick we find the healing Jesus, in Marriage and Holy Orders we find a Christ who calls us to service in the community of faith. 

While something like the shroud may present us with a tangible proof, only faith can transform our lives.