We believe what we see with our own eyes. We hear about things and we refuse to believe them until we see for ourselves. “Seeing is believing” is a saying first written in 1639! We say it today. What we see – physical or concrete evidence – is convincing.
If a dozen or so witnesses say that they saw a car run through a red light, would any court in the land disbelieve them? And, if that car running the red light got into a car crash, what do we do? We ask if there are any “eyewitnesses.” (Seeing is believing.) The testimonies of eyewitnesses are regarded as being reliable evidence. These testimonies mean a great deal in a court of law. If hundreds of people saw the same thing, wouldn’t their statements be believed even more?
Here in our Gospel reading, we have eyewitness accounts. Many of them! And yet the same folk who would accept eyewitness accounts in a traffic court case, do not accept them from the Bible. People will tell you it’s because it all happened so long ago that we can’t be sure it’s true. But if it happened so long ago and people have passed it on for all these years, doesn’t that count for something? If, in those long ago days, you were to hear from Mary Magdalene’s own mouth the story of her encounter with the risen Jesus, would you ever forget it? If she came running to you and said: “Jesus is alive! I have seen the Lord!” Wouldn’t you tell everyone you knew about such a wonderful occurrence? You would be so astonished and so convicted that you would pass on the news about this miracle. Wouldn’t you tell your children and your children’s children?
Think about things that people remember and pass on in their personal lives. Tales of heroism, love, grief, tragedy, humour – all passed on because they mean something true to the tellers.
In our passage in John, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus. He is alive! And Mary Magdalene is not the only eyewitness. It isn’t long before hundreds of people see that Jesus has returned from death. If only one person saw him, maybe we would think it was a delusion, or a case of mistaken identity. Or, if the people who saw the resurrected Jesus were not close to him, perhaps they could have confused him with a similar-looking person. But when we realize that the disciples and Jesus’ close friends, and many others, all testified that he had appeared to them after his death, that he was alive and in their company, then such a collection of reliable witnesses is not to be ignored.
There have been people who doubt that Jesus really died on the cross. There has been conjecture that he might have taken a drug that helped him to endure the pain, that he might have gone into a coma, that he didn’t really die and that he was resuscitated afterwards. This is highly unlikely. No-one survived crucifixion, whether they were drugged or not. It was such a horrible and final death.
And there is the eyewitness statement that Jesus seemed somehow different after the resurrection. Keep in mind that while resuscitation means to revive a physical existence to what it was before, resurrection means something new, a metamorphosis, new life from its previous existence. Jesus’ changed state meant that Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and the travelers to Emmaus later, at first did not recognize him. Jesus was changed. This fact points to resurrection rather than resuscitation.
Modern science may cast some light on this. Quantum theory recognizes that as soon as we observe a phenomenon, it is changed. When we observe energy, it appears as either a particle or a wave depending on how and when we observe it. When testing equipment is set up to observe light energy as waves, the light energy appears to be a wave. But when the equipment is set up to observe light energy as particles, then the light energy appears to be a particle! Seeing really is believing in this case. Science proves it.
So the observation of Jesus’ friends and followers hinges on change, too. The energy particle (or wave) is still the same energy no matter how it is observed, yet it changes its characteristics. Jesus has been transformed by the resurrection into something new. So new, that he tells Mary Magdalene not to touch him yet. Even so, he is still Jesus. And later, yes, his disciples do touch him. But he is able to come and go in a different way – Jesus suddenly appears in a room or in the midst of people, and then he disappears. It is an amazing new existence not bound to our physical world.
It sounds almost unbelievable. But remember, there are so many things in creation that seem impossible, but over and over again, knowledge is rewritten to include some new discovery about the way things work. The impossible becomes probable, and then proven fact.
The truth, as testified to by hundreds of eyewitnesses is that they saw the risen Christ. They heard him, touched him, ate with him, and rejoiced with him. He had returned!
The witnesses have testified. The evidence is in. There is no doubt that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Alleluia! We rejoice with them this Easter day! Hallelujah! Jesus is alive!