Reflection by Pastor Shawn Bawulski
Our New Testament reading for this Sunday is 1 Cor. 15:1-11, where Paul writes about Jesus’ resurrection. He writes,
I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Here we have the most complete summary of the resurrection in all of Scripture. It even contains some details not found in the gospels. Paul reminds us that ancient prophecies speak of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He also points out that the resurrection was a public event: it was available to be seen and Paul provides of list of witnesses. Eye-witness testimony was the basis of the early church’s belief in the resurrection, and there were a good number of eye-witnesses that could (at that time) be directly consulted if one so desired. Over 500! Jesus’ resurrection was not some secret trick, not merely some interior feeling, not something done in a corner (Acts 26:26).
And Paul was not the first. Peter proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus in the first Christian sermon in public (Acts 2:24-26), and the apostles preached the resurrection to both Jew and gentile throughout the book of Acts. It is fundamental to apostolic preaching, an essential part of the Christian faith, and the centrepiece of Christian thought.
However, we are confronted with a problem. I’m not an eye-witness. Neither are you. None of us saw it with our own eyes. And the eye-witnesses are no longer around for cross-examination. How do we know the truth of the resurrection if we are so far removed in history from the event?
Another problem: there were many who saw Jesus’ life and miracles, and who were even right there in the right time and place to see and touch the risen Lord, or at least interrogate the eye-witnesses—and yet they didn’t become disciples. If simply being an eyewitness to these historical events does not turn one into a disciple, what does?
In discussing these difficulties, the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard says that only a revelation from God—an encounter with Christ—in which he reveals himself can make someone a disciple. This encounter, this Epiphany, is available to those in Christ’s time as well as to us today. Everyone becomes a disciple in the moment that she encounters Christ firsthand. This moment is when God in Christ reveals himself to an individual. There is no disciple at second hand. Details about the historical events may be the occasion for the moment, just like being an eyewitness to Jesus may be the occasion. But historical knowledge alone, however it is gained, does not make one a disciple. For that, we need to encounter the living Jesus through the work of the Spirit. For that, we need faith.
The risen Jesus encounters Thomas in John 20:29 and he tells Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”