"He is not here! he is risen," these words which greeted the women who visited Jesus' grave on the third day after his burial remain central to the Christian faith. The two women had not expected him to release himself from the clutches of death when they had joined others to lay Jesus in that grave.
In their witness of an empty grave they were also joined by the other disciples. Jesus confirmed that he belonged to the grave no more but had transcended the confines of death by appearing to them on a number of occasions. According to the Bible records, he appeared to more than 500 before ascending to heaven.
This means much to those who follow Christ. Alfred Ackley the famous hymn writer rendered it as follows: "He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today/ He walks with me; He talks with me; along life's narrow way." The resurrection of Christ makes a relationship with him possible and meaningful. It is not limited to a state of mind or sweet thought but real companionship.
It also gives his followers a spiritual forward thrust, in a world that is hostile and hopeless. For followers of Jesus life does not end with the grave. They consider Jesus as "the first fruits of those who have died." (1 Cor 15:20). Christ's resurrection inaugurates and makes the resurrection of his believers possible. The Bible reminds believers, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
The Bible urges Jesusí followers to hope beyond the grave. In fact life for them begins with the grave, since the life beyond is believed to be far better in quality than the present. It is variously described as "rest" and "eternal life." This hope also helps them to face the sufferings of the present life cheerfully. To quote Saint Paul, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us." (Rom 8:8).
At a very individual level, followers of Christ are asked to suffer, and sacrifice for others because there is life beyond the grave.
This faith and hope that issue from the fact of Jesus' resurrection has helped his followers to brave much difficult weather. The Christian Church has withstood all persecutions only because the followers of Christ, motivated by their faith in a risen Lord were able to see beyond the grave.
Resurrection also means responsibility. One of the main strengths of the Christian faith is the idea of divine forgiveness. God forgives sinful human beings unconditionally. It is God's initiative and free. God's forgiveness is so generous that one can go to God asking for forgiveness any number of times. This is why the idea of forgiveness is perhaps a weakness. It sometimes becomes a premise to sin and wrong others.
However, faith in a resurrected Jesus brings a balance. Though forgiveness is free it is not cheap; it does not permit us to drive on the wrong side all our life. Faith in resurrection when acted out in the Baptism demands that followers of Christ tread a path that cannot be retraced. A path that leads from old to new, darkness to light, and there ought to be constant progress. Saint Paul expressed it as: "Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4).
Just as Christ's resurrection is irreversible so also a Christian who follows Jesus treads a path that leads from death to life and newness. He should not return to the old again. When translated into daily life resurrection faith demands that the followers of Jesus keeping moving forward.
Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ produced a new community. If Christ had not risen and appeared to his disciples, the Jesus movement that brought hope and meaning to millions would have perished along with him.
It did not perish but got stronger and continues to bring meaning to millions of lives all over the world down through two millennia because of the reality of resurrection. This faith has also helped all those who believe in Jesus to continue their service to God and humanity, in the face of persecution and suffering.