Tuesday, June 2, 2009

4-8-2007: Easter (C)

Acts of the Apostles 10:34,37-43/Psalm 118/Colossians 3:1-4/John 20:1-9
When Peter and John ran to the tomb on that first Easter morning the gospel records that they saw Jesus’ burial cloth -- but claimed the body was gone. Please note: there is no mention of bones.

A few weeks ago the Discovery Channel released a “documentary” on the discovery of Jesus’ family tomb and an ossuary said to have contained the bones of Jesus himself. Adding to the intrigue was the claim that another ossuary was found purported to have contained the bones of Mary Magdalene and, yet another, with the supposed remains of Jesus’ and Mary’s child. Curious that the writer/director, and his theological advisor, did not seem to appreciate the fact that if the first claim were true, the second should really be no big deal.

Even more curious was the follow-up discussion between Ted Koppel and some representative theologians, one of whom was Father David O’Connell, President of the Catholic University of America. Koppel posed a hypothetical to Father O’Connell: if it were true that Jesus’ bones had indeed been found, how would it affect you? O’Connell’s response implied that it wouldn’t matter at all since it was his faith that was most important. An astounding answer, to say the least. Astounding because it implies that faith has nothing to do with reality. In other words, when Peter and John entered the tomb that first Easter it wouldn’t have mattered if they saw the dead body of Jesus lying on the slab – their wishful thinking was equivalent to truth.

If faith is not based on reality, non-verifiable though that reality may be, then it remains just wishful thinking – nothing other than illusion. If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead in his human body then Christianity must be judged a sham. I’m sure Father O’Connell might have been overly concerned not to give the wrong impression on national TV, but I would have been more encouraged in my faith if he said something like this to Mr. Koppel’s hypothetical: Well, if Jesus’ bones were really found, then I would have to take off this Roman Collar, resign my presidency of CUA, not bother about praying, and find a wife.

In fairness though, Father O’Connell is just like the rest of us -- rarely concerned with what we profess to believe. After all, religious practice can be quite satisfying whether or not it is founded on a reasonable faith – and it could be argued that Christianity has accomplished quite a bit in its long history whether its claims are true or not. Sadly, religious practice without at least an occasional critique, can be the very thing that protects us from the challenges of faith and the pursuit of truth. As manipulative and downright deceptive as that Discovery Channel documentary was, it at least raised the question of the importance of what Christians believe – and if it really matters.

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