Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

By Father Alexander Schmemann

In this world Christ’s resurrection can never be made an ‘objective fact’. The risen Lord appeared to Mary and ‘she saw Him standing and knew not it was Jesus.’ He stood on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias ‘but the disciples knew not it was Jesus.’ And on the way to Emmaus the eyes of the disciples ‘were kept from recognizing Him.’ The preaching of the resurrection remains foolishness to this world, and no wonder even Christians themselves somehow ‘explain it away’ by virtually reducing it to the old pre-Christian doctrines of immortality and survival. And indeed, if the doctrine of resurrection is just a ‘doctrine,’ if it is to be believed in as an event of the ‘future,’ as a mystery of the ‘other world,’ it is not substantially different from the other doctrines concerning the ‘other world’ and can be easily confused with them. Whether it is the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body – I know nothing of them and all discussion here is mere ‘speculation’. Death remains the same mysterious passage into a mysterious future. The great joy that the disciples felt when they saw the risen Lord, that ‘burning of heart’ that they experienced on the way to Emmaus were not because the mysteries of an ‘other world’ were revealed to them, but because they saw the Lord. And He sent them to preach and to proclaim not the resurrection of the dead – not a doctrine of death – but repentance and remission of sins, the new life and the kingdom. They announced what they knew, that in Christ the new life has already begun.

All Christianity is the experience of faith repeated again and again as if for the first time, through its incarnation in rites, words, music, and colors. To the unbeliever, it may indeed seem like a mirage; he sees only incomprehensible ceremonies, and he understands them only outwardly. But for believers, all of this radiates from within, and not as proof of his faith, but as its result, as its life in the world, in the soul, in history. Therefore the darkness and sadness of Holy Friday is for us something real, alive, contemporary; we can cry at the cross and experience everything that took place in that triumph of evil, treachery, cowardice, and betrayal; we can contemplate the life-bearing tomb on Holy Saturday with excitement and hope. And therefore, every year we can celebrate Easter, Pascha, the Resurrection. For Easter is not the remembrance of an event in the past. It is the real encounter in happiness and joy, with Him whom our hearts long ago knew and encountered as the life and light of all light. Easter night testifies that Christ is alive and with us, and that we are alive in Him.

The entire celebration is an invitation to look at the world and life, and to behold the dawning of the mystical day of the Kingdom of light. “Today the air is filled with the fragrance of Spring,” sings the church, “and all creation rejoices in its renewal…” It rejoices in faith, in love and in hope.


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