Something happened

Daily Reading for April 6 • The Third Sunday of Easter

Without the resurrection the Christian movement would have petered out in ignominy and there would have been no Christianity. Without the resurrection Christianity would not be itself, as the distinctiveness of Christianity is not its adherence to a teacher who lived long ago but its belief that “Jesus is Lord” for every generation through the centuries. . . .Something happened so as to vindicate for the apostles the meaning of the cross, and to make the person of Jesus contagious to them. The evidence for a stupendous happening, which the New Testament writers mention, was the survival of the church, the appearances of Jesus in a visible and audible impact on the apostles, and the discovery that the tomb was empty. The several elements in this threefold evidence no doubt had different degrees of evidential weight for different people, and they have such varying degrees still. . . .

The Emmaus story illustrates the various ingredients of belief in the resurrection. There was the climax, Jesus known and recognized in the breaking of the bread and vanishing from their sight: it was the moment of faith and encounter. But there had been previously the reflection on the divine purpose in scriptures which the stranger had unfolded to them on the road. There had been the report that the tomb had been found empty, and that the discovery had been corroborated by other observers. There was the corroboration of the two disciples’ seeing of Jesus at Emmaus by the news that the apostles in Jerusalem had also seen him.

I am suggesting not that the Emmaus story tells us exactly how the Easter faith began, but that it illustrates the apostolic church’s view of the factors in the creation of that faith for the original and subsequent believers. To value these evidential factors is not, as Bultmann suggests, to lapse into a worldly-minded historicism, for the Easter faith, existential as it is, was and is related to evidential history. Christians believe in the resurrection partly because a series of facts are unaccountable without it.

From God, Christ, and the World by Michael Ramsey, quoted in To Believe is To Pray: Readings from Michael Ramsey, edited by James E. Griffiss (Cowley Publications, 1996).

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