Most people would call Easter a miracle. Jesus, who died and was buried on Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday morning. To rise from the dead is to live again in the body. This is why the empty tomb is significant. It is not just that the spirit of Jesus lives beyond the grave. It is that the spirit of Jesus was reunited with his body and his body came back to life.
The modern objection to Easter is that this is not in accordance with what we regularly observe. We put dead bodies in the grave all the time, but they never come back to life three days later. The natural process of decay results in death and, crazy advertizing claims notwithstanding, there is no known way to reverse or undo this process.
However, Easter does not contradict what we observe in the natural world. Rather, Easter is possible because what we observe in the natural world is not all there is to see. Resurrection is not merely a natural occurrence. Resurrection is a supernatural occurrence.
The are realities that we cannot see. The Creed says that God is the “Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” The invisible is what we call the “supernatural.” It is not contrary to the natural world, but the supernatural transcends the natural and is not limited by it.
When the supernatural enters into the natural world, things can happen that are not ordinarily possible for mere nature. God became man in Christ. In the Incarnation, a supernatural being, God, who cannot die, took on human form in a body that died. And death was conquered. This cannot be explained in terms of the merely natural. But is can be explained in terms of the supernatural–and it makes perfect sense. Christmas makes Easter both possible and inevitable.
We know the natural world by observation. We know the supernatural world by revelation, which is received through faith. Because the resurrection is a supernatural event, it cannot be understood by natural sight. This is one point on which every gospel resurrection story agrees. People see the evidence or even look at the Risen Christ, but they do not understand what has happened until something provokes or provides the faith that is necessary to see.
St. John saw the empty tomb and did not understand what had happened. John understood and believed only after he saw the linen clothes and remembered the prophesy of Jesus that he must rise from the dead. Mary looked right at Jesus, but did not recognize him until the Good Shepherd called his sheep by name and she recognized his voice (John 10:3-4).
The faith that is able to see the Risen Christ is not gullibility, wishful thinking or hallucination. Faith is the ability to comprehend supernatural realities that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Supernatural truth is understood by faith in the same way that natural truth is understood by physical examination. This faith is a gift, and it is given to all to whom the Risen Christ reveals himself.
The absence of faith is the primary consequence of sin. Man created in the image of God was able to see God. Disobedience led to spiritual blindness, which is eyesight bounded by the physical world. This leads to idolatry, which is the worship of creation as an end in and of itself. Or, in the industrial age, it leads to the manipulation of the creation for purely visible and physical ends.
This is why we experience Easter as a restoration of sight. The Risen Christ restores to his people the ability to comprehend the supernatural, to see what cannot be seen with unredeemed eyes. The two men on the road to Emmaus walked with the Risen Christ for several miles without recognizing him–until he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them; then, “Their eyes were opened and they knew him” (Luke 24:31). The Risen Christ appeared to the Apostles. They did not recognize him–until he “Opened their minds that they might understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
Some say they would believe in the resurrection if they could see it with their own eyes. The Bible tells us that those who were there to see it did not believe it–until some special revelation enabled them to see. No one sees the resurrection by natural sight or physical proof. We “see” the Risen Christ by revelation, which is received through faith.
The Risen Christ is revealed to us in the same way he was revealed to the eyewitnesses. He is made known to us in the breaking of the bread. Our eyes are opened and we know him. We come to see him when he calls us to faith by name and we recognize his voice. He is revealed to us when he opens our minds to understand the Scriptures. This is not just reading the texts that say, “He is Risen.” This understanding is the ability to see how the whole biblical story of creation, fall and redemption is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. The Risen Christ is revealed to us when the Holy Spirit enables us to see beyond the merely natural to the supernatural.
The faith that sees the resurrection does not believe everything anyone says about the supernatural world. The faith that enables us to understand the truth about God also enables us to recognize the lies that are contrary to that revealed truth. Errors about the physical world can harm us. Errors about the spiritual world are doubly dangerous. Many who claim to see the supernatural are deceived.
We test what we see in the physical world by the laws of science. We test our spiritual experiences by the revelation the whole church has received. For we see the same Risen Lord that Mary and the Apostles saw. We have all received the one baptism for the remission of sins. We all experience the same peace of God that passes understanding. We are all waiting for Christ to come and restore us to eternal life in the body.
This is the promise of Easter. “Christ is risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christmas makes Easter inevitable. Our baptism and faith in Jesus make our own resurrections inevitable. We are all going to die. But Christ lives in us and we live in him. Thus, we, also, will be raised to new life in new bodies. The trumpet will sound and “the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess 4:16). “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Co 15:53). This hope is no less certain because it cannot be seen with ordinary sight. In the full light of the new creation, when nature itself becomes supernatural, we will discover that faith provides us with a more accurate and complete vision. Easter is an invitation to open our eyes and see. As Jesus said to Thomas, “Be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27).