This year Easter Sunday coincides with April Fool’s Day. Over the years there have been some famous April Fool hoaxes. My favourite is probably the BBC’s spaghetti tree broadcast. Some people were taken in and believed that pasta grew on trees. A close second is the Beeb’s feature on a colony of flying penguins. You’d think that having Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, rather than Sir David Attenborough fronting the programme was a bit of a giveaway, but it does look pretty convincing. Look it up on YouTube.
But was the biggest April Fool hoax ever the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead, leaving his tomb empty? The resurrection story is one of the most contested facts in history. Fake news, or what? As with any historical claim, one thing to consider is the reliability of the eyewitnesses. By ancient standards the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb weren’t reliable at all. Their testimony in a court of law was worthless. Why? Because they were women. Chauvinistic, I know, but that’s how things were back then. If the Gospel writers wanted to fabricate the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, why make women key eyewitnesses? It is testimony to their honesty that all the Gospel accounts record that women were the first to see that Jesus’ tomb was empty.
It took the empty tomb and personal encounters with the risen Jesus to convince the apostles that he was alive from the dead. His original followers thought all was lost when Jesus was crucified and then laid to rest. The last thing they expected was to see him again. And what they saw was no dream, or vision. Jesus said to his followers, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The disciples had forsaken Jesus when he was arrested and crucified. In the wake of his death they hid themselves away in case the authorities come for them too. But soon after we find them boldly telling everyone who would listen that Jesus had risen from the dead. Many of the apostles laid down their lives for that claim. Which at least suggests that they genuinely believed it. The word for witness in Greek is ‘martyr’. The apostles were martyrs who testified that Jesus was alive. Who would knowingly die for a lie?
The Gospel accounts invite our careful scrutiny. Look up Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20 on www.biblegateway.com. The credibility of the eyewitnesses is a strong argument that Easter was no April Fool’s hoax. It happened. Jesus laid down his life for the sins of the world and then rose from the dead. This is not ‘fake news’, but Gospel truth. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).
* For Trinity Parish Magazine, Dilton Marsh and News & Views, West Lavington