Saint Stephen Lewisham
10th April 2004
First Mass of Easter
The Body and the Seven Witnesses
"I believe in the resurrection of the body
But what does The Resurrection of the Body? mean
Ask seven people today what it means, and you’ll get seven different answers – and be no wiser!
So let’s imagine how seven people like Mary Magdalen, Thomas the Apostle, and St John the Evangelist saw it They were first-hand witnesses of the Resurrection, so they’re much more likely to give us a clear account than anyone living today. The witness in court who says "I saw the accused throw a brick through the shop window" carries more weight than the one who says "Well, my girlfriend knows the accused, and she told me that he’s just the sort of person who’d go about breaking shop windows".
So, based on what we read in the Bible, let’s imagine what these first-hand witnesses might say.
Mary Magdalen: I went to the tomb to anoint his body with the ointment I had left over after he raised my brother Lazarus from the dead. But I found the tomb empty. Then suddenly a voice behind me said, ‘What’s wrong, are you looking for someone?’ I replied ‘Jesus’, and the voice said, ‘Mary’ and when I turned round the person I thought was the gardener, I knew to be Jesus. ‘Don’t touch me!’ he said ‘but go and tell my brethren what you’ve seen and heard.’ It was by his voice that I recognized him.
Saint Peter: Like Mary, I found the tomb empty. I just couldn’t work out what had happened. But later that evening Jesus walked into the Upper Room straight through the locked doors. It scared the living daylights out of m – I thought it was a ghost. But Jesus said ‘come and feel my hands and my feet Oh, by the way, can I have something to eat, please?’ Seeing him eat convinced us he must be real and alive.
Saint John: I went to the tomb with Peter. When I saw the linen cloths lying as if the body had passed clean through them, and the napkin lying where his head had been, I put two-and-two together and realised that Jesus must have risen from the dead, and his body must be somewhere. It wasn’t the body that convinced me so much as the fact that there wasn’t any body in the sepulchre. So I wasn’t as surprised as Peter when our Lord walked clean through that locked door and stood beside us. In fact, since finding the tomb empty, I’d been rather expecting something like that to happen.
Saint Thomas: When I was told that Jesus was alive, I simply didn’t believe it. I told the other disciples so at the time: ‘Unless I can see and touch his wounds I’m not going to believe’, I said. Well, Jesus took me at my word – and I believed – though he did go on to say that not everyone would in future be able to touch him physically in the way that I had.
Cleopas: My friend and I were walking to Emmaus discussing the tragedy which had happened to Jesus. A stranger joined us, and we talked together about it all the way home. He accepted our invitation to supper, but the very moment he took bread, blessed and broke it, the penny dropped, and at that very same instant he disappeared – though in a curious way I just knew that he was still present with us if you know what I mean. Since that evening, whenever we’ve celebrated the Lord’s Supper as he commanded us to do I have recognized the Presence of his Body in the Breaking of the Bread.
The Centurion: I’ve seen a good many men die by crucifixion, but there was never one who died like Jesus did, praying for his enemies despite the terrible wounds they’d inflicted on his body. The whole incident made a profound impression, and convinced me that this was no ordinary Man. The memory of his wounded body so seared itself into my mind that I found myself coming back to it again and again and, as I did so, becoming more and more certain that we hadn’t heard the end of the story. So when I was told a few weeks later by one of his followers, Andrew I think it was, that God had raised Jesus from the dead I wasn’t at all surprised. In fact I was one of the hundreds who came forward at Pentecost and was baptised by Simon Peter, Andrew’s brother.
Saint Paul: Though I never met Jesus during his earthly life, I became the sworn enemy of everything he stood for, and everyone who followed him, because that was what I believed that the Scriptures I’d learnt from my earliest years were telling me to do. My doubts began when I saw how Jesus’s followers, especially Stephen, reacted to being persecuted. Like Jesus, they prayed for their persecutors; but besides that, they had this amazing ability to stand by each other, as if they recognized that through their sufferings, not in spite of them, Jesus and they were all part of a single, suffering Body. After I saw the risen Jesus and was converted, I realised that the Body which he had left behind on earth, which we call his Church, is indeed the Body of Christ, through whom he continues his heavenly Father’s work of ‘reconciling the world to himself’. I saw also that those same scriptures which I thought had been telling me to destroy the followers of Jesus, were in fact calling me to be Christ’s missionary to the Gentiles. Hence in every local church I visit, my teaching centres on those words ‘You are the Body of Christ".
* * * * *
So there we have seven witness-statements about the Resurrection of the Body from different people who came to believe that Jesus Christ is none other than God Incarnate, that he died for our sins, that he rose again for our justification, and lives for all eternity ‘to make intercession for us’.
The ways in which these witnesses became aware of his risen Body differed from one witness to the next: hearing his voice, touching his wounds, praying to him, Breaking the Bread, searching the Scriptures, and being incorporated into his Body on earth. Because there are many different approaches to that truth about the Risen Christ, you and I mustn’t think that our particular way is the best way, let alone the only one. Sooner or later we may even find our preferred way of approach being superseded by another one.
What we hold in common with all the witnesses who have spoken to us is that profession of faith which reads: "I believe in the Resurrection of the Body. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"
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