The two Marys kept their vigil, the men had fled. In their mind, they’d endured a tragic, shocking defeat and their savior a tortured, humiliating betrayal and death. It was all over. All was death. Life would go on, empty. It had all seemed so — possible, that this was not all there was, and as good as it gets. Back to the fishing boats and the drudgery.
None of these thoughts or expressions are very original on my part. There must be a way to jolt us to greater — awareness. Cold, hard truth. The truth that liberates. I want it. I need it.
Yes, he was dead.
But He had come to die, and he had died. He foretold it all. No one was listening or believing Him.
Then, the Resurrection. Without it, the whole story is meaningless. And the churches — or The Church — a big costume show and money pit. A place where teens are abused by their homosexual overseers.
Secular historians and theologians have examined the matter of the Resurrection exhaustively over centuries. In the early years of the Christian era, Celsus, an anti-Christian polemicists, suggested that the whole story emanated from the disordered imagination of an ecstatic Mary Magdalene. Others theorized a case of mass hallucination. People thinking they’d seen things they didn’t see. I could be wrong, but I think that’s the belief of the ever-popular James Carroll.
The Church has examined all these claims stringently. The precise details of the empty tomb, the encounters in the flesh — for many it is important to deny it all, because if He rose, then absolutely nothing matters except that.
“He thrown everything off balance. If He did what he said, then there’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him.”
So says Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit, a serial murderer. He decided it all must be false. All that could possibly matter to him was pleasure and cruelty and self-seeking – and pleasure in cruelty. But at least he understood what was at stake and made his conscious, perversely reasonable choice. Like all of us, he had difficulty believing such a thing could be true, but if it was, how could anything else be more important than that?
Admittedly, his fictive testimonial is all a little too overt, too credulous for most of our tastes. We can doubt such literal depictions of nihilism.
See, instead, images of Vladimir Putin, reverently touching the cross of Christ (as he did as it was held before him by his bishop), then crossing himself, then ordering an ongoing mechanized slaughter, destruction, horror and cruelty on an industrial, civilization-killing scale. Joe Biden, his forehead smudged with the visible chrism of salvation, a “devout Catholic”, seeing to the slaughter through abortion of millions, insisting on it. A more banal and to many seemingly innocuous, perhaps necessary mass killing — until we’re forced to think about it, hear that Silent Scream….as each soul is “cancelled”. (Yeah, I know. We don’t want to believe such stuff. We do what we do for the “good of humanity.”)
If He didn’t rise, all is folly, says St. Paul.
And if He didn’t, all should be permitted — within “reason”, of course.
Tertullian would ask, a century later, “how many of the crowd standing around us, shall I not prick in your inner conscousness as being the slayers of your own off spring?” He spoke to the mobs who cried for Christian blood while they drowned or exposed to the dogs those unwanted among their newborns. Then there were these tawdry other matters — among the Persians, he claimed, there was word of those who had intercourse with their own mothers.
All is permitted. Our own darkness spreads. “Self-will run riot,” as they say in the recovery community trying to rescue folks from substance addiction. But you don’t have to be drunk or high to be atrocious.
For the record — Mary Magdalene’s reaction at the sight of the empty tomb was not disordered. A disingenuous gospel-writer might have depicted it so, but instead, shows a woman perplexed and assuming the body of her savior has been stolen and proceeding to investigate based on that assumption. She summons the men and Peter and John run to search for the body. They find the burial cloth arranged in an orderly way one would not immediately assume was the work of grave robbers. Slowly, sluggishly, they come around to accepting the seemingly impossible. That would be us, too. And then — they see Christ in the flesh. He stays with him for forty days, and they stay with him for life, even unto their own cruel deaths for his sake.
St. Paul: “If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.” This from a man who had zealously persecuted Christians and overseen their execution. They were a threat and a nuisance to his mind. Then he became one of them. Did he ever! I guess he believed Christ rose. But he had the extra advantage of being struck with a bolt of light and hearing His voice.
For us, it is a matter of faith. Investigate. Think about it. Compare and contrast the stories. Listen to the doubters or deniers. “Test everything,” said that same St. Paul. “Cling to what is true.”
But even believing, the course is hard, the temptations and distractons many. Sin, however you define it, abounds. It’s easier just to not think about it. Unconscious living, in the manner of those anti-Christian mobs who were addressed by Tertullian.
Well, He told us we were weak. He told us we’d need Him.
And, by the way, He promised He’d rise. And that He’d come again.
Meanwhile, I beg You, please come to me….life’s getting a little flaky.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
T.S. Eliot, from “Choruses from ‘The Rock’