I once heard a New Testament scholar (the name escapes me now), who himself is not a Christian, argue that the only way that he as an historian could explain the emergence of the Church is that something dramatic happened to transform the life of Jesus’ first disciples. That is, How is it that Jesus’ totally inept followers go from the fearful bunch that abandon him at his arrest to the courageous witnesses that fill the pages of the Acts of the Apostles? According to the New Testament, the dramatic thing that happened was the Resurrection.
The four Gospels have various accounts of what happened on that first Easter morning and the days that followed. According to the New Testament, the tomb was empty and Jesus appeared to his disciples and others. In 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8, Paul writes that Christ “appeared to Cephas, the twelve…more than five hundred brothers and sisters…James…all the Apostles. Last of all…he appeared also to me.” Although the New Testament sources have somewhat different takes on what happened at Easter, what is clear is that something broke into their lives that had not only to do with the raising of Jesus from the dead, but the raising of the disciples from the dead.
What happened to the disciples was truly astonishing. For example, when we last met Peter during Holy Week, he couldn’t even muster up the courage to acknowledge that he knew Jesus: “I don’t know him (Luke 22:57).” When we meet Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, we meet someone who continues to bear witness to the resurrection in spite of the threat of imprisonment and persecution. Acts describes from beginning to end an early church whose life makes no sense unless something happened to dramatically change their lives.
The church’s ministry today is sustained by the same astonishing power. We live in a death dealing world that tries to convince us that we should live in fear: fear of death, fear of the stranger, fear of the enemy, fear of not having enough, and the list goes on. But then the life-giving breath of the risen Christ pours into us at Easter and we find the energy to live differently. As Peter boldly proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29).” When Christ “appears” to us, we discover an extraordinary freedom and refuse to be enslaved by fear. We are alive in a way we never dreamed imaginable. We not only live a new way, but invite others to tap into this life-giving power.
The Great 50 days of Easter are a time to live with great freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1).” Live today empowered by the resurrecting power of Christ. Live knowing that you don’t need to be afraid of anything. Alleuluia!