During the initial weeks of Lent 2007 in early March I avoided commenting on the sensational story of the alleged discovery of the tomb of Jesus in a Jerusalem neighbourhood.
While it is true that tombs were found in Jerusalem's Talpiot section and the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Matthew seem to have been engraved on the tombs, few people spoke of how common such names were during the first century. The media hype, though short lived, certainly put the theme of the resurrection front and centre of our Lenten and Easter journeys this year.
James Cameron's documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, produced in collaboration with archeologist Simcha Jacobovici was broadcast at the beginning of Lent. The tomb story tried to call into question what lies at the heart of our Christian faith: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
What was most troubling and amazing about the recent publicity stunt of Jesus' burial place and the alleged DNA findings of Jesus and his family is how much ink the media spilled (and wasted) on utter nonsense. The whole tomb story tried to call into question what lies at the heart of our Christian faith: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. People said it was a matter of intellectual pursuit and freedom, of speculation, growth and mature questioning. Nonsense.
If such a publicity stunt were ever pulled against Jewish or Muslim traditions or their sacred texts, we could only imagine what the response would have been!
The tomb story ultimately damaged the serious work of honest and intelligent archeologists who make significant contributions to history and civilization. Rather than shaking the faith of Christians and Catholics, this story called into question the folly of self-proclaimed experts who have neither faith nor intellectual integrity.
Let's do a post-mortem on the tomb story. Any way you look at Jesus' resurrection after more than 2,000 years, so many of us continue to focus our energy on that tomb, on that morning, on what did or did not happen there and how to explain it to anyone who does not happen to believe it. Not a single Gospel tells us how it happened. The tomb was just the pretext.
The story of Jesus' resurrection, at the heart of the Christian faith, is about two friends of Jesus who gave up after the events of Good Friday and tried to wander back into oblivion, to a unknown town called Emmaus, only to meet the Good Shepherd in person who brought them back. It's about a woman -- Mary of Magdala who was stuck in her story and grief and didn't recognize that her beloved was standing in front of her -- not as gardener but as the Lord. It's an incredible story about Thomas, who far from being the chronic doubter, was really the lover who didn't want to ever get burned so badly again. It's about Peter who, before he could be the rock, had to be weak, impetuous, denying, thick headed, and foolish. It's about John who stayed close to the source, always believing the words of his friend. Jesus' appearance to the apostles in the upper room following his resurrection continues to have much to say to modern-day Christians.
One doesn't sit at a computer and type "Jesus is risen." Nor does one set out to disprove it on an archeological dig. Jesus' victory over death belongs to the church's ongoing pastoral and sacramental life and its mission to the world. The church practices resurrection in churches and in nursing homes, in bombed-out neighbourhoods in Iraq, in soup kitchens and hospices of our neighbourhoods, and, of course, in cemeteries in our own cities. The church, not Hollywood nor museums, is the living community of those who have the competence to recognize Jesus as the risen Lord. As long as we remain in dialogue with Jesus, our darkness will give way to dawn, and we will become "competent" for witness to the resurrection.