There are men — we see this in the phenomenon of suicide bombers — who die for a misguided or even evil cause, mistakenly retaining, but in good faith, that the cause is a worthy one.
Even Christ’s death does not testify to the truth of his cause, but only the fact that he believed in its truth. Christ’s death is the supreme witness of his charity, but not of his truth.
This truth is adequately testified to only by the Resurrection. “The faith of Christians,” says St. Augustine, “is the resurrection of Christ. It is no great thing to believe that Jesus died; even the pagans believe this, everyone believes it. The truly great thing is to believe that he is risen.”
Keeping to the purpose that has guided us up to this point, we must leave faith aside for the moment and attend to history.
We would like to try to respond to the following question: Can Christ’s resurrection be defined as a historical event, in the common sense of the term, that is, did it “really happen”?
There are two facts that offer themselves for the historian’s consideration and permit him to speak of the Resurrection: First, the sudden and inexplicable faith of the disciples, a faith so tenacious as to withstand even the trial of martyrdom; second, the explanation of this faith that has been left by those who had it, that is, the disciples.
In the decisive moment, when Jesus was captured and executed, the disciples did not entertain any thoughts about the resurrection. They fled and took Jesus’ case to be closed.
In the meantime something had to intervene that in a short time not only provoked a radical change of their state of soul, but that led them to an entirely different activity and to the founding of the Church. This “something” is the historical nucleus of Easter faith.
(Excerpt from a 2007 Easter homily given by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa)