I offer this homily (and take off my hat) to any brothers who are celebrating Mass or live streaming during this crisis
Bottom line: We have powerful evidence to Jesus' resurrection - those witnesses who like Paul faced torture and death because of their living relation with Jesus.
Today's first reading has powerful evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. I will frame that evidence with one of the earliest parts of the New Testament - St. Paul's message to the Corinthians:
"I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve." Paul adds:
"After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me."
Scholars agree that Paul wrote this letter around 55 AD - that is, 20 some years after Jesus' death. He cites official witnesses to the resurrection: Peter, the Twelve Apostles. Paul had personally met with Peter and James. Paul also mentions "500 brothers".
At this point some will say they had a "mass hallucination". Truth is, few psychologists believe there is such a thing. What Paul is saying is that there are people still alive who will testify to Jesus' resurrection. Of course, Paul himself had an experience of Jesus' resurrection that turned his life upside down.
Peter has the same message in today's first reading. Jesus died for our sins, "but God has raised him up." Then he quotes one of David's psalms that prophesies God rescuing someone from the corruption of the tomb. Is David talking about himself? Peter responds that David died and is buried right here in Jerusalem. You can see his tomb today. Jesus' tomb, however, is different: It is empty.
No one denied the empty tomb. What they did was give alternative explanations: That the disciples stole Jesus' body or they somehow revived him. There's a big problem with these conspiracy theories, but let me first let me address a common objection: That these accounts are unreliable because they were written years after the events.
Okay, I mentioned that Paul wrote to the Corinthians a couple decades after Jesus' death. The Gospels possibly a few decades later.
Even a distance of 40 or 50 years doesn't mean unreliability. Here's a comparison: Once I joked that when I was in Stanwood High, the Spartans beat the Monroe Bearcats and won the state championship four years in a row. One guy who went to Monroe High in the sixties came up to me. He actually remembered how the games went. In a minute he could have blown apart my fantastic story.
You could say something similar about the Gospels. If people had counter evidence, the apostles would not have preached so confidently nor would the Gospel writers have published something that could be easily disputed. What they were proclaiming was even more serious than high school sports. :)
And the early Christians had enemies who would jump on any inconsistency - maybe like people do today on Twitter. And the Christians' enemies would take harsh measures. They had St. Paul flogged several times. Eventually they put him to death, along with Peter and the other Apostles.
I've asked myself if I would have had such courage. I remember reading about Chinese Christians who were placed in coffins, then the lids nailed shut. As their persecutors lowered the coffins in the earth to bury them alive, those Chinese Christians sang hymns. Would I have such courage? Would you?
This bring us to the objection that the early Christians were involved in some kind of conspiracy. Well, when conspirators are arrested, then threatened with torture and death, the conspiracy usually falls apart. The early Christians not only risked persecution, they rejoiced when they could give such testimony for Jesus. How did they do it?
We do have an answer in today's Gospel. They not only experienced Jesus risen from the dead; they had an ongoing relation with him. As two disciples of Emmaus testify, "he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread."
Next Sunday we'll hear more about that relation to Jesus. Next Sunday is also the last Sunday in our current lock-down. I'm hoping that the following Sunday - which is Mother's Day - we will be allowed to gather a few more people in our church, to do something for our moms.
Whatever happens we will continue to explore the mystery of the resurrection - and our relation to Jesus. For today remember this: We have powerful evidence to Jesus' resurrection - those witnesses who like Paul faced torture and death because of their living relation with Jesus. We also have that relation in prayer and in the Eucharist - the breaking of the bread. Amen.
Audio Homilies for Mercy Sunday:
From Archives (Third Sunday of Easter, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru