Breaking News: The Tomb of Jesus is Empty!

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Depending on your point of view, it’s either the most significant archeological find in history, with enormous theological consequences, or just another fraudulent publicity stunt aimed at promoting a silly television program. I vote for the latter.

The story in question, of course, is the announcement by filmmakers and researchers that they’ve discovered two ancient burial boxes containing the bones of Jesus and His family. Most legitimate scholars have completely discredited the scam. An archaeologist named Amos Kloner, the first to examine the burial site, said that the idea fails to meet any professional standards. “The claim that the burial site has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell,” said Kloner. And Stephen Pfann, a renowned biblical scholar in Jerusalem, said that the film’s hypothesis holds little weight. Nonetheless, the announcement that the body of Jesus has been discovered has generated a good deal of public curiosity.

The President of the Catholic League, Bill Donahue, summarized the situation very nicely. He says that James Cameron, the director of the film, (who also directed the movie “Titantic”), has produced a “titanic fraud.”

More troublesome to me than the secular publicity surrounding the “discovery,” however, is the bizarre statement by a Catholic theologian at a prominent Catholic university that even if the body of Jesus was discovered, it wouldn’t shake His faith. What? If he doesn’t believe in the Resurrection, then what does he believe, and why? (I also worry about what he’s teaching in the classroom!)

If it’s true, that the body of Jesus was found in a Jerusalem suburb, then the Christian Faith is over. As St. Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (I Cor 15:14) That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

And think of the personal consequences if Jesus was not raised from the dead.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then all of our Christian and Catholic beliefs and practices are suspect.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, the Church is not the Body of Christ, enlivened and guided by the Holy Spirit. It’s simply another social club and its work is built on a fraudulent foundation.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, all of our loved ones who have passed away are simply gone and buried, with no hope of resurrection; we’ll never see them again. And we have no hope of eternal life either.

And in very personal terms, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, my years of study and work are in vain. My sacrifices, promises and commitments are for naught. I might as well pack it up, move on, get married, raise a family, and try to live a good, quiet and productive life.

But in fact, I’ve bet my whole life on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that He is the Lord and Savior of the world. If the filmmakers who have caused this fuss have produced any good, it’s the opportunity for us to review our belief in the Lord’s Resurrection and all that it means for us. It’s a good exercise, especially during this Season of Lent.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following: “The Resurrection above all constitutes the confirmation of all Christ’s works and teachings . . . Christ’s Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises both of the Old Testament and of Jesus Himself . . . The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by His Resurrection . . . Christ’s Resurrection – and the Risen Christ Himself – is the principle and source of our future resurrection.” (# 651-655)

It’s true, and one of the great ironies of history, that no one actually saw Christ rise from the dead. But, as the Catechism insists, “The mystery of Christ’s Resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness.” (#639) As you know, the classic proofs of the bodily Resurrection of Christ are the empty tomb and the many appearances of Christ after the Resurrection. And it’s indisputable that something very dramatic happened to change the life of the disciples – from weak, timid, frightened men, to courageous witnesses and preachers, willing to leave everything behind, travel the world and sacrifice their lives for their convictions.

So, dear readers, the choice is yours. If you believe that after two-thousand years some movie producers and directors have really found the body of Jesus in an obscure tomb in the outskirts of Jerusalem, then don’t go to Church this Sunday, Easter Sunday, or ever again.

If, however, you believe the core Christian doctrine that Christ was raised from the dead, you should go to Church this Sunday, Easter Sunday and every Sunday. Like the first Disciples your life should be transformed by the reality of Christ’s Resurrection. And you should live your life in such a way that the world comes to believe that Jesus is Lord!

(This column originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)