This year the day on which we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus is marked by turmoil, war, and bloodshed, as if the forces of sin and hatred have gathered strength for a renewed onslaught against peace, joy, and happiness – the will of God for all children of the Earth. But our faith tells us that darkness will not prevail, that the present turbulence is momentary. That depends in large measure on how ready and willing we are to extend the Divine will to every human person, but also every living being on the planet and the very Earth itself. The time grows shorter, it seems, with every passing year, the goal more distant. We need Easter. We need Passover and we need Ramadan. We need peace on earth.
Here, this morning, we are confronted by Jesus’ closest followers, from Mary Magdalene to Peter, who simply couldn’t understand what had happened. But they came to believe, Paul last of all, like one born out of sequence as he says, because they encountered the Risen Christ. Or, rather, because Christ encountered them. Not because of the tomb, not because of the discarded shroud or face cloth. But because of Jesus himself, vibrantly alive and yet scarred by the wounds of his passion. Wounds of glory.
Luke does not mention the burial shroud or face cloth in his account of what the women found when they peered into the tomb. It is a detail recalled by John. For almost two thousand years, believers have treasured those two cloths believed to have held the body of Jesus in the tomb. Skeptics have tried in vain to show that these relics are fraudulent, but more and more examinations support their authenticity. I have often wondered why else anyone would have preserved winding cloths unless the body that had been wrapped in them was not only gone but in fact not dead? Blood-stained cloths from a corpse would be the very last things any good Jew would have even touched, let alone treasured.
But even if authentic the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo cannot prove the Resurrection. Nor did the empty tomb prove that Jesus had been raised. The preservation of the tomb itself, the burial shroud, and the face cloth is a sign of insistent faith, a result based on meeting the Risen Lord himself. It is not the cause but the effect, a consequence of their faith.
The message of Easter is no different for us today than it was for Mary, Peter, and the other disciples. Like them, we, too, must learn to believe, especially because unlike them we do not see. That message is not simply about the triumph of Jesus over the bonds of death. It is about the resurrection of humankind, about the rebirth of hope, the end of the reign of sin and death, the beginning of eternal life. It is about our own death and resurrection. Paul, the earliest Christian writer of all, put it so simply: “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. [And] When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory “ [Col 3:3-4].
Faith in the Resurrection of Jesus reveals itself in our new life, a life being renewed again and again, in fact being renewed forever. That is a life of love and justice, of peace-making, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of undying hope and sacrifice, a life devoted to truth and freedom. To live in that Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is truly to rise beyond death. That is the gift we celebrate this morning.
Be Christ, then: that is the message of Easter. If people ask you where is he, now that he is risen, let them see him in your life. Transform the world. For Christ is truly risen.