Today is the thirty-ninth day after Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Most of the world has moved on to Mother’s Day, Derby Day, and soon, Memorial Day. But Christians are still celebrating Easter. We are still greeting one another with the words: “Christ is risen!” and replying, “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”
The Easter season is not a one-day affair. It is drawn out for 40 days because Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances lasted for 40 days. After the soldiers guarding the tomb witnessed the resurrection and after the women came and saw the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, Jesus appeared to many.
First, He appeared to Mary Magdalene when she mistook Him for the gardener (John 20:11-18). Then he appeared to St. Peter, also known as Cephas (1 Corinthians 15:5). That same afternoon, He walked with two followers for several miles on the road to Emmaus. After He revealed Himself, they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles, who had locked themselves into the Upper Room (Luke 24:13-35). Then, he appeared to the whole group, to eat with them and to show them His hands and side (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-25). All of this happened on Easter Sunday.
Then, an entire week passed when nobody saw Jesus. But, in an echo of Easter, Jesus appeared to the apostles again on the evening of the first Sunday after Easter. This time Thomas was with them to see the nail prints and spear mark for himself (John 20:26-29).
Once again, time passed when nobody saw Him. The disciples finally traveled to Galilee as Jesus had commanded them (Matthew 26:32; 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28; and 16:7). There, Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples for the third week in a row. It happened at breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23). And that is not all.
Although we are given no more detailed accounts, Saints Luke, John and Paul all mention that there were more post-resurrection appearances than these (John 20:30-31; 21:25; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Paul specifically mentions appearances to James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church, as well as to a gathering of more than 500 people. Luke summarizes all of this by saying, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 ESV).
The resurrection of Jesus is not a flash in the pan. Jesus stayed visible for almost six weeks and offered “many proofs” because He wanted to leave no doubt that His self-same body that died on the cross is no longer dead. He is and remains living and active in the flesh. Had there been only one brief appearance, it could be questioned as a fluke, an apparition, or a hallucination. But multiple, sustained, and interactive encounters provide more than enough quality evidence to stand up in a court of law.
St. Paul explains why this is so important: “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). Symbolism won’t do. We need a Jesus who is really risen, not a Jesus who is only risen in our hearts and minds. Because a truly risen Jesus is still living and active in the world to forgive sins, to rescue from the devil, and to bring your own body back to life. So, Paul continues, “[I]n fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:14-22 ESV). Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!