We are all faced with things that make us fearful.
I think this became especially clear to us during the COVID-19 pandemic: we became aware that many of the things we most hold on to are fleeting and that nothing can prevent us from eventually facing death.
But friends, there is one thing that changes everything: the resurrection of Jesus. It changes our fear into courage, and it changes our hesitations into boldness. Jesus—as healer, teacher, and prophet—could be admired or ignored. But Jesus as risen Lord must be either accepted or rejected. His resurrection is either fact or fiction.
Each one of the apostles saw the risen Lord with his own eyes. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, not only the apostles but more than five hundred people saw him, and most of them were still alive when Paul wrote. And who were these apostles? People who were imperfect: Peter, the denier and foot-in-mouth-putter; Thomas, the doubter; James and John, the ambitious; and other apostles, who ran away at Jesus’ hour of greatest need. Mary Magdalene had been possessed, and Paul was a murderer.
What did these people do once they saw the risen Jesus? They told everyone! And they never recanted, no matter how much pressure they came against.
Some of you will remember or have read about the Watergate scandal. Chuck Colson, who worked for Richard Nixon during his presidency and participated in Watergate, became a Christian later in life. He said that he realized how reliable the apostles’ testimonies must have been because of his own experience.
There were a dozen men involved with Watergate who were incredibly powerful politically and incredibly successful—the kind of people who made things happen. These twelve men all knew about Watergate and worked to cover it up. When it started to leak, when people started to be questioned, these twelve men swore themselves to secrecy. They said they would not crack; they were not going to tell anyone about what they had done.
Within one day of being questioned, John Dean reported everything he knew to the authorities. He did it to save his own skin, to cop a plea. In less than three weeks, every one of the twelve men admitted to their part in the Watergate cover-up. They too sought to save their own skin.
The apostles professed their faith in Jesus Christ and the fact of the resurrection. And what did they get for it? Peter and his brother Andrew were crucified. Paul was brutally tortured multiple times and eventually beheaded. Thomas was speared by four different people. Matthew was stabbed to death. James was beaten to death. Matthias, the replacement for Judas, was burned alive. The only apostle who didn’t die a martyr was John, the beloved disciple, but he was burned in oil by the Romans and managed to live through it. These men didn’t crack.
There’s no “deathbed confession” from one of the apostles or any of the five hundred or so other people who saw Jesus rise from the dead, saying that they made it all up. They all had time to recant, to say that it wasn’t true. None of them did. They were unanimous, unified, and unequivocal about proclaiming, professing, and persevering in this truth, even at the cost of their lives.
And This Is Our Faith.
We believe that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, that he is who he says he is, and that he has conquered death, the one thing that changes everything. It’s one thing to profess the faith and another to persevere in the faith. This is where it gets very personal. If Jesus really rose from the dead, it doesn’t just change what we do on Saturday evening or on Sunday morning. It changes our whole lives.
We all know that the day will come when the truth will be inconvenient. Many people who know the truth about Jesus—who know he has conquered death, who know this is a fact—begin to worry about what the people around them will think: that the resurrection is ridiculous, that it’s absurd. Perhaps their friends or family members will think the Church is narrow-minded and hateful. Even when we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, professing it can be inconvenient.
In times of pain and uncertainty—when we experience fear and loss, real suffering—the resurrection is still true. If you lose your job, the resurrection is still true. If you are living isolated and alone, the resurrection is still true. Maybe you’re sick or someone you love has died, and you haven’t been able to be with them; the resurrection is still true.
We profess this faith, we persevere in this faith, and we witness to this faith. We profess it today so that we can persevere tomorrow.
What If It’s True?
And if the resurrection is true, what else is true?
That God knows your name.
That God has not forgotten you.
That Jesus established a Church for you, to be a home, a family for you, a people with whom you are never alone.
That Jesus has given us his Body and Blood, his soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Even when you can’t reach the Eucharist, it is true. That Jesus has given his apostles and their followers, our bishops and priests, the ability to forgive sins in his name. You don’t have to be bound; you don’t have to be stuck; you don’t have to be alone.
If the resurrection is true, it’s all true.
And even your greatest fear of all fears, dying alone—that’s been changed too. Because if Jesus conquered death, he can conquer death in you. Jesus promised to never abandon or forsake you; no one who belongs to him dies alone.
There is no longer anything to fear. There is simply a faith to profess, a faith in which we persevere. Jesus Christ has conquered death. This is the one thing that changes everything.
This is a selection from A World Undone, by Fr. Mike Schmitz (The Word Among Us Press, 2020), available from www.wau.org/books.