On February 11th 2016, scientists around the world jumped for joy as they announced that they had detected ‘Gravitational Waves’ produced by the spinning and collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from the Earth! The news was greeted with euphoria as it finally confirmed the prediction made by Albert Einstein 100 years ago in his Theory of General Relativity and supported by Professor Stephen Hawking’s work relating to black holes. The discovery was hailed as a landmark because it will revolutionise the way that we think about the creation of the universe and our continued understanding of it. The discovery is remarkable because Einstein himself had thought that gravitational waves would be too weak for anyone to detect – and yet the scientists have done it, and the evidence is there for all to see. Seeing is believing!
Yet, however great the discovery of gravitational waves might be, it surely pales into insignificance compared to the discovery that was made by some women two thousand years ago, when they found that the tomb used to place the dead, crucified body of Jesus was empty, and that Jesus was indeed alive. It sounds completely astonishing, astounding and fanciful, and just the sort of thing that might be the product of the over active imaginations of some rather hysterical, grief stricken women! In fact, it’s a story that could be easily dismissed if it wasn’t for the fact that their story was corroborated by others – many others, and neatly summarised by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 15.3-8). There were of course the women, but then there were the disciples, and Peter; a crowd of 500, James (the brother of Christ and later leader of the church in Jerusalem), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and finally Paul himself, but perhaps the most telling, poignant and significant encounter was with Thomas. Thomas had been absent when the risen Christ had first met with his disciples, and upon hearing their exhilarating news, he refused to believe it, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand in his side (the dead body of Jesus had been speared to prove death), I will not believe it.” (John 20.25). Like many others, I am so glad that this account has been recorded for us, because it shows a man who would not allow his heart to rule his head but wanted tangible proof of a story that would have seemed just as incredible in his day as it does in ours. Strikingly, when the Lord eventually appeared to Thomas, and he was invited to physically examine Christ’s wounds, we are not told that he did so, instead he immediately knelt before Jesus, proclaiming him to be “My Lord and my God”. Seeing was believing and seeing Christ before him was more than enough! Every doubt, worry and anxiety was blown away by this incredible and unique experience.
The problem for us is, that we weren’t there, and many therefore refuse to believe. We will believe in the existence of gravitational waves simply because we are told by scientists that we have empirical proof, but what could be more substantial than the testimony of those who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, embraced him, ate with him and were able to share in other forms of fellowship with him? These people were witnesses and many were prepared to die themselves on the basis of their experience and what they had seen with their own eyes. But we may protest, and therefore shout all the more loudly that rising from death is just impossible for human beings, to which my answer (along with that of so many others) is – precisely. This man, this ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, although fully human, was more than that – he was also divine. He was as the Bible puts it, ‘the Son of God’. So, unless we are prepared to ignore all the evidence to the contrary, we have to accept that this event too was of cosmic significance and totally revolutionises the way we look at the universe and our place within it.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and meaningful Easter.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” John 20.27