The Gardener’s Tale of the Resurrection: Fact and Meaning

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Some years back, Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, clearly though ineffectually said at the start of Holy Week: “The Catholic Church rejects flagellation, crucifixion and other traditional practices of Filipino Catholics. We are doubtful that these activities are real expressions of Christian faith.” The good Monsignor acknowledged that folk Catholicism remains a big obstacle to achieving a more mature faith in this predominantly Catholic nation.

He emphasized that “the real message of Holy Week is not only that Jesus Christ died for us, but that Jesus Christ also gave us hope for new life by rising to life from the dead.”

Now, the fact of Christ’s resurrection has never been much doubted by Filipino Catholics nor, unfortunately, considered central to their life. I doubt if we were much disturbed by the scepticism that was supposed to have been engendered years ago by the Discovery Channel’s airing of James Cameron’s documentary, “Lost Tomb of Jesus,” which claimed the discovery of a tomb with ossuaries bearing the names of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and “Judah son of Jesus.” It was consequently irrelevant when scholars and archaeologists disproved Cameron’s findings, saying that the text on the Mary Magdalene ossuary read “Mary and Martha,” and that the tomb was more than likely the tomb of St. Paul’s friend, another Jesus, who was also known as Justus, son of Joseph. And very few noticed that following this revelation, Discovery Channel pulled its planned repeat of the program.

Like Pope Benedict XVI who wrote in the introduction to his book, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, the Filipino Catholic will always instinctively say, “I trust the gospels.” If he spent but a minimum time of seriousness in Catechism or Theology 101, even without having taken up classes on law or evidence, he would nonetheless be able to tell whoever cares to listen that the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message.

One of the witnesses, the Apostle Thomas, may even be considered the early founder of critical science – because he insisted that he would not believe Jesus had risen unless he could see and touch the evidence.

This fact of the Resurrection is further attested by the eloquent silence of the Synagogue which had done everything to prevent deception, which could have easily discovered deception, if there had been any, which opposed only sleeping witnesses to the testimony of the Apostles, which did not punish the alleged carelessness of the official guard, and which could not answer the testimony of the Apostles except by threatening them “that they speak no more in this name to any man” (Acts 4:17).

Finally the origin of the Church, requires for its explanation the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, for, as G.K.Chesterton remarked following Augustine of Hippo, the rise of the Church without the Resurrection would have been a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself. Yes, Panyero, Your Honor, one can establish the fact even in a Philippine court. But what would that fact mean? 

Science and theology

Everything Jesus said and did was said and done in the light of a plan for the world that would be realized through him and was coming with him. His vision focused on the ultimate meaning of every human being and the fulfillment of the deepest aspiration of every human heart – the divine plan for all creation that started some 13.7 billion years ago, a plan that Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

Today there is hardly a scientist who doubts the Big Bang theory originally proposed in the 1920s by the Belgian priest-scholar, Georges Lemaitre, and the new story of creation that the theory has engendered. Well, scientists and their new story of creation – the new cosmology – including the centrality of evolution first proposed by Darwin, must now face the challenge of the New Creation itself, which is the deepest meaning of the Resurrection – an area of theology too important to leave to the theologians alone much as cosmology itself has become too important a branch of science to leave to scientists alone.

The line distinguishing theology and science ceased to be disjunctive decades ago and is most clearly conjunctive now. It is not science versus theology but science and theology together.

Galileo Galileii has reportedly accepted the apologies of the church that he so loved and condemned him; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, theologian and scientist, is silenced no more. We shall finally accept that the kingdom is not to be in another world but this one. The Resurrection demonstrates that the Kingdom of God happens here, in the midst of human affairs. It is meant for this world here and now.

The most general characteristic of human existence is our being in the world, in bodily mode, confirming the Resurrection of the body as an integral part of biblical hope. To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in the God of Jesus and the Kingdom, in the inevitability of the New. It is to believe that this power for the New is a power stronger than Death.

In common sense, Death signifies END, FINISH. But in this power of the Resurrection that Christianity has witnessed, St. Paul is moved to ask, “Death, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting.” Nowhere. And that really is the gardener’s tale. –FINIS-

Charles Avila, LSSAJ