We are often told that it is not possible to believe the Easter-story in a scientific age. Just because an event is without precedent and without parallel in human experience does not mean it could not have happened. The true scientist will sift the evidence carefully and evaluate it, and draw conclusions from the results.
The joyful Easter-proclamation of the Church is that Jesus who was put to death by crucifixion and whose corpse was hurriedly buried in a tomb nearby, was raised to life again on the third day after all this happened. The evidence for it is what is recorded in the Gospels, the effect it had on the original band of disciples, the existence of the Church, and two thousand years of Christian belief and worship.
Central to the Gospel-stories is that the disciples found the tomb empty. If they had gone to the wrong tomb, it would have been easy enough for the authorities to open the correct tomb and prove their claims wrong by producing the body of Jesus. The same could have been done had the authorities themselves removed the body for fear of what the disciples might do.
Had the disciples themselves removed the body and hidden it, then everything else they did would have been a conscious lie, and one of the most amazing facts about the Easter-story is the change in the lives of these men, all of whom deserted Jesus in His hour of need. Within seven weeks they were standing up in the city proclaiming that Jesus was alive, and they devoted themselves to spreading that message all round the world, even at the cost of their own lives. People don't do that for something they know is untrue.
Some people have claimed that Jesus did not really die on the cross but merely fell unconscious, and revived in the cool of the tomb and made His escape. But tombs were sealed by large stones which would be impossible to move from inside. And when we consider all that Jesus had endured less than two days previously, even had He come round He would have been a mangled invalid. Moreover, Roman soldiers were professional and experienced as executioners, and historical records as well as the Gospels show us the lengths they went to to ensure that an executed criminal was indeed dead.
It has also been suggested that the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples were some form of hallucination or wishful thinking. But again this is hardly adequate to explain the change in those disciples in such a very short time, and it certainly cannot explain the long tradition of witness of Christian men and women down the ages who have known the presence of a living Lord in their lives.
There are good grounds, therefore, for accepting the evidence of the Gospels and Christian tradition, and in that conviction I invite you to share with us in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in church on Easter Day, and I pray that we may all experience His living presence and power as we try to serve Him day by day. "Jesus is alive" - that is the jubilant conviction which brings hope and joy into our lives. Blessed be God who has given us new hope and new birth in raising Jesus from the dead.
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.