Every Friday, Joe would go to the corner grocery store and buy a lottery ticket. And every week, when the winning numbers were announced, he would compare them to the ones on his ticket. Each week he hoped to win, and each week he was disappointed. But that didn’t stop him from buying another ticket the next week. He always nurtured the hope that he would win someday, even though the odds were against him.
We all nurture hopes of various kinds. We hope to live a long and productive life. We hope our children and grandchildren will grow into good people who will contribute to society. We hope for world peace and prosperity. These are all good things, but we can’t necessarily count on them to come to pass. They may or may not.
So what can we hope for that will never disappoint us? St. Augustine once wrote, “The Lord’s resurrection is our hope” (Sermon 261:1). Placing our hope in Jesus’ rising from the dead is a sure bet. In fact, it’s something we can stake our lives on. That’s because the hope St. Augustine is talking about is different from Joe’s hope that he’ll win the lottery. While Joe has no idea whether he’ll ever win, we know that everyone who believes that Jesus has been raised from the dead will be saved (Romans 10:9). So we’re not just wishing something good will happen; we are confident it will!
In this Easter issue, we want to explore our hope in Jesus’ resurrection—both the hope that it brings us personally and the hope that it holds for the world. We also want to see how we can grow in the virtue of hope and how we can become beacons of hope to the people around us.
In this article, let’s look at the evidence that Jesus’ resurrection really happened, which will show us just why we can have this Easter hope.
Eyewitness Accounts. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus felt as if the ground under them had just given way. They had placed all their hopes and dreams in Jesus, this wonder-worker from Nazareth, but he had been brutally put to death by the Roman authorities. “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” one of them tells a stranger who has joined their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:21). Of course, they don’t recognize that the stranger walking with them is Jesus, the risen Christ.
When they tell him what is burdening their hearts, Jesus begins to point out all the places in the Scriptures that refer to him. As they approach the village, they ask Jesus to stay with them, and as he blesses and breaks bread during dinner, they recognize who it is (Luke 24:31). Looking back, they realize that their “hearts were burning” as he opened up the Scriptures to them (24:32). Their hopes had been fulfilled—and beyond their wildest dreams. Jesus was alive; he had conquered death, and they had witnessed it for themselves.
Although we haven’t encountered the risen Christ in the flesh as these two disciples had, we have the eyewitness accounts of many of his first disciples. In addition to these two, Mary Magdalene met him at the tomb (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:9-10; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:11-18). Then he appeared to the eleven disciples while they were hiding from the authorities; he even ate some fish in front of them (Luke 24:43). The following week, Jesus appeared again (John 20:24-29). Finally, he appeared to Peter and some of the disciples on the shore of Galilee while they were fishing and made breakfast for them (John 21).
The apostle Paul also met the risen Jesus—on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9). Later, he recounts how Jesus also “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once” (1 Corinthians 15:6).
The point is, our hope in the resurrection is not just a vague hope. It’s based on a real event that changed the lives of real people. And what happened two thousand years ago still holds true today: Jesus is alive and lives among us!
The Apostles’ Preaching. Here’s another reason to hope in Jesus’ resurrection: it was the foundation of the apostles’ preaching. Without it, they had nothing special to proclaim. On Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that God had raised Jesus, “releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Later, after Peter and John healed a beggar who was in the Temple area, Peter told the crowd that had gathered, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead” (3:15). It was Jesus, risen in glory, who had healed this man.
Paul also based his preaching on Jesus’ resurrection: “If Christ has not been raised,” he wrote, “your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). He made it clear that Jesus’ resurrection has won our forgiveness. Because Christ is risen, we too can have the sure and certain hope of rising with him—provided we place our faith in him and respond to his call on our lives.
Peter, Paul, and all the apostles were so convinced of Jesus’ resurrection that they were willing to die rather than renounce their faith in him. Paul even asked the Corinthians why he and the other apostles would put themselves in danger and face death if the resurrection weren’t true (1 Corinthians 15:30).
Given all of this, how can we not place all of our hope in Jesus’ resurrection?
Jesus Is the First but Not the Last. The “firstfruits” was the early portion of the harvest that the Israelites offered to God in thanksgiving and as a sign of the great crop to come. Paul calls Jesus’ rising from the dead “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Although he is the first person to be resurrected, he won’t be the last. And that’s a third reason for our hope: Jesus’ resurrection was only the beginning!
Our Father’s plan was to destroy death forever. Jesus has gone before us, but we who have believed in him will also share in his resurrection on the last day. If this were not the case, why would God have raised Jesus up at all? So we can place our hope in our own resurrection because Jesus has shown us—in his own body—what God intends for us.
And here’s a final reason. Jesus, now risen in glory, has given us the Holy Spirit as a “first installment” on our promised resurrection (Ephesians 1:14). He gave us the Spirit to guide and comfort us, to help us to recognize our sin, and to empower us to serve his people. This means that the risen Christ lives and acts in us through his Spirit. And not just us. If we look closely enough, we can see proof of Jesus’ resurrection in the lives of our sisters and brothers in Christ!
A Reason for Our Hope. Pope Benedict XVI once said, “If we take away Christ and his resurrection, there is no escape for man, and every one of his hopes remains an illusion” (Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter 2009). Without Jesus’ resurrection, our lives would not only end here on earth, but they would also lack eternal meaning or purpose. We would die in our sins (John 8:24). Jesus’ resurrection gives us such great hope because we can live the abundant life he has given us here on earth, and we can hold on to the promise of everlasting life with him forever in heaven.
So many people today live without hope. We too may have experienced times when we felt hopeless. But because we are Christians, we are never truly without hope. God loves us and has redeemed us, no matter how we feel. He has a plan for our lives, no matter what our circumstances may be. And because he rose from the dead, we too will rise one day and experience union with him.
St. Peter exhorted his fellow Christians to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). We all have hopes and dreams that we want to see fulfilled. But none can compare to the certain promise of eternal life that God has made for us in Jesus. No matter what struggles we might experience in this life, that is our one solid hope. So during this Easter season, let’s be ready to tell people why we have placed our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior!