“Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb,” by Fra Angelico (Cell 8), from between 1440 and 1442, is in the Museum of San Marco. (Wikimedia Commons)
“Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb,” by Fra Angelico (Cell 8), from between 1440 and 1442, is in the Museum of San Marco. (Wikimedia Commons)

OK, now that I have your attention, the answer to my question is, of course, yes! But how do we know this to be true? As we celebrate Easter (for a full seven weeks), it would be fruitful for us to meditate on this central mystery of our faith. For St. Paul tells us, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians15:14)

The great Christian author C.S. Lewis has been often quoted as proposing three possibilities regarding Jesus Christ. Lewis essentially said that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic (or something worse), or was truly who he claimed to be, i.e., the Lord. What Lewis was saying is that Jesus’ claim to be the divine Son of God was either a hoax he had played on people, or he was simply crazy, or he was who he said he was.

The many “signs” that Jesus performed in the Gospel are all a testimony to his divinity. These signs are the many miracles he performed: changing water into wine (his first sign), restoring sight to the blind, enabling the mute to speak and the deaf to hear, healing the leprous man, healing the crippled, and even raising the dead. But some skeptics might argue that these are just stories told by deluded people and there is no real proof of their historicity.

But then we are faced with Christ’s own resurrection from the dead. There is no getting around  this. I here make the bold statement that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a historical fact. How can we say this? Let us look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness.” (CCC, 639) “… Christ’s resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.” (CCC, 643)

Eyewitnesses

The Catechism bases this conclusion on three essential things. First is the empty tomb. Christ’s body was gone on the morning of the third day, to which Mary Magdalene testifies. No one has ever claimed to have found the dead body of Jesus. Second are the appearances of the risen Jesus to his apostles, and later to many other disciples. Third, the body in which he appeared to them was a real body, not just a spiritual reality, like a ghost. In fact, Jesus reassures the apostles that he is not a ghost by allowing them to touch his risen flesh, and he even ate food in their presence.

But again, the skeptic could say that the body was permanently hidden, and the apostles and other disciples just made up all the stories about his appearing to them. But what rules this out is the witness the apostles gave to the Lord’s resurrection. Remember, they were completely demoralized after his crucifixion and death, and were filled with fear in its wake. It is even recorded in the Gospels that they themselves doubted the appearance of the risen Jesus at first. They had to be convinced that it was truly Jesus who stood before them in the flesh after the resurrection.

The witness of history

But once they became convinced that they had really seen Jesus alive in his glorified human body after his crucifixion and death, and especially after they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they boldly proclaimed the resurrection. They did this in the face of vehement threats, grueling mistreatment, and ultimately martyrdom. They would not take back the fact that they had seen the risen Lord.

This is very powerful and compelling evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. There really is no human explanation for why the Church survived the first one hundred years, given that the apostles and early martyrs were being killed for their profession of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Yet here we are, 2000 years later!

I look at it this way. No person, let alone many people, are willing to be tortured and killed for something they know is a lie. If the apostles had made up the story of the resurrection, and especially after seeing others tortured and killed before them, then they would have given up the story in a heartbeat. Remember how frightened they were of their own peril after the crucifixion. Yet now they are willing to be tortured and die rather than deny what they knew to be true. Christ had risen!

So, in the words of C.S. Lewis, Jesus Christ is truly who he claimed to be. He is the eternal Son of God, incarnate of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man, risen in glory. And since we can believe in who he is, so we can then believe everything he has revealed to us in the sacred Scriptures and in the sacred Tradition of the Church.

Christ is risen, alleluia! He is truly risen, alleluia! Happy Easter!