Twists and turns are essential means for creating captivating literature and dramas. Linear and predictable plots make bland reading or watching. But those twists and turns have to be believable; otherwise they are as bad as the lack of them.
The four gospels are certainly full of twists and turns. We don’t notice them anymore because we are very familiar with their stories. Once I celebrated a wedding. A few people snorted when I read out that well-known passage about Jesus turning water into wine. They hadn’t been familiar with the story, were taken by surprise, and found amusing the steward’s verdict on the wine: ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’
To audiences in the first century the greatest of the gospels’ twists and turns was the resurrection of Christ. Having listened to a sad and tragic story of Jesus’ passion (as we did on Good Friday) they must have gasped in wonderment on hearing that He’d returned to life. Such a dramatic twist was unexpected!
That’s why many in those audiences might have gasped for a different reason than wonderment. In their opinion such a twist-and-turn was completely unbelievable, totally improbable. St Paul experienced such reactions in Athens, when most of the audience sneered at the news of the resurrection, and went away still laughing at the idea.
Not much really changed since those heady days of the first century, except that people don’t gasp in wonderment when they hear about Jesus’ resurrection. There are many – even among Christians – who don’t believe in His resurrection and either mock the idea or politely dismiss it.
To be honest, I can understand such attitudes. While most don’t question the existence of Jesus or his ministry until His crucifixion, His resurrection remains a bone on contention to many. Among a variety of reasons to be doubtful are the gospel themselves. Most of the stories about Jesus contain many fine details, helping first audiences pinpoint the stories to certain people, places or events. More or less the four gospels are agreeable when they describe Jesus’ ministry. But when they switch to Jesus’ resurrection and His subsequent appearances, they seem confused and confusing. Suddenly the details are thin on the ground and prevalently on the side of personal experiences of various individuals.
That’s exactly what the resurrection of Christ has always been: a personal act of faith. St Paul refers to it clearly in his Letter to the Romans: ‘if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’
We are here today to profess our belief that Jesus truly conquered death and came back to life; we are here to praise Him for His love and mercy that has the power of transforming lives of those who believe in Him. After having met the Risen Lord, we will go out and proclaim Jesus to the doubtful world; the world that is in great need of Jesus’ transformative and healing love.