Habeas Corpus and the Resurrection

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have examined and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.        I John 1:1-3 (1:1-2:2)

He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look at My hands and My feet; see that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.      Luke 24:38-40 (36-49)


A man was going down a street when in a store window he saw a very beautiful picture of the crucifixion.  As he gazed spellbound at the vividly pictured story, he suddenly became conscious that at his side stood a young boy.  The boy, too, was gazing at the picture, and his tense expression made the man know that “The Crucifixion” had really gripped the eager little soul. Touching the boy on the shoulder, the man said, “Sonny, what does it mean?”

“Doncha know?” he answered, his face full of the marvel of the man’s ignorance.  “That there man is Jesus, an’ them others is Roman soldiers, an’ the woman what’s cryin’ is His mother, an'” he added, “they killed ‘im!”

The man did not want to move from in front of that impressive piece of artwork but he had other things he had to do, so he turned and walked away.  In a few moments he heard footsteps on the street behind him, and there came rushing up the boy.  “Say, mister,” he exclaimed breathlessly, “I forgot to tell you, but He rose again!”


“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have examined and touched with our hands…”     I have for a long time been impressed with these opening words to St John’s first letter.  As much as his Gospel account flew to such spiritual and theological heights, in his letters he reminds us there is a tangible and even physical base to the whole story.  There was a moment in time, a tick in the clock of history, a physical reality of God the Son actually come into human flesh.

You could almost imagine John looking at his hands in absolute wonder.  This hand perhaps had once been put on the shoulder of God the Son.  This hand had once given God the Son, a playful shove.  How incomprehensible that thought must have been now years later.  Here was the Dabar of the Old Testament, the Logos of the New Testament, the Word of God made flesh – and  -I-  got to see Him, and hear Him, and of all wonders even touch Him.  How absolutely astonishing after all these years!

Why is the story of doubting Thomas is so important? It is because he had demanded a tactile experience to prove the Resurrection.  He didn’t want mass hysteria, he didn’t want fantasies, he didn’t want empty theologizing.  If he was to place his future and his eternity on something solid, he wanted physical proof that the body itself was actually risen from the dead, that the same Jesus on the Cross would actually be there – not a ghost, not a séance, but physically standing there fully alive. .He is owed our gratitude because if Jesus could convince such a skeptic, then it is strong proof of Easter.

We need to have such proof when death comes close as it has in these last weeks.  On the larger scale, the deaths of the Humboldt hockey players has gripped the nation, but even we have experienced the power of what humanity’s fall into sin has created as we wrestle with the death of one in our own midst.  It is useful that during this time of shock and mourning, we have a very strong message that there is a powerful answer to the emptiness which has invaded our lives.

Think of what the disciples were experiencing on the Saturday after the crucifixion: the helplessness, the frustration, the bewilderment of what to do next, the lostness of the day.  We are very acquainted with those feelings.  Death is so very powerful in its destructiveness, that even Jesus had to literally convince His disciples that He really was standing before them alive.  It is important then for us also to dwell on the message of the lessons and the reality which they describe so that we also are included in the joy which the Resurrection holds.

Often at a time like this, the question arises in our minds (whether we like it or not) whether God cares.  There are times in life when God can seem so remote, so detached from what we are experiencing.  There are times when we can feel so small and insignificant and barely noticed if at all in the great dramas in the world.  The very powerful antidote to these feelings is found in especially what happened on the day of Easter and the days following.
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However, we have to start before these Bible readings for today.  We must begin at the Cross.  Does God care?  There is proof here more than we can imagine.  When we have experienced the devastation of death, we need to hear that Jesus did not merely come to earth as a little baby, nor just to walk the world as a healer and teacher – no, when we come face to face with death, we need to see that God is personally involved in regard to what we cry out for as well as what we experience.

It is important in our distress to discover that God deliberately chooses to not be remote.  He chooses to be here at ground level when it comes to us.  He chooses to not only walk with us, but also to face the ordeal of death which we face – God chooses to stand where you stand.  He chooses to take upon Himself the struggle and agony of a condition which mankind has created for itself, the condition which results from our rebellion of sin.  God has cared enough to get involved to the hilt, to get involved to investing His whole Self into our life-situation.

We know how Jesus took upon Himself our sin, shouldering the full weight of every rebellion of each of us.  We know how our sins called for the condemnation of forsakenness and death because we had separated ourselves from the Source of all Life.  We know that some of the greatest suffering isn’t just in the body, but in the heart, in the mind, and in the spirit.  Death powerfully describes the loneliness and emptiness which comes from the broken connection we have with God.  Yet Jesus absorbed this condition into Himself, and placed Himself on the Cross in order to be done with what separated us from God.

It is overwhelming to realize that all the sins, all the broken connections from every human being, from everywhere on earth and from every year, every decade, every century, every millennia, beginning with Adam and Eve until Jesus returns again – all that accumulation was brought to the Cross.  But by far the most amazing thing about it all is that in only one day all of it, every last bit of it was fully paid for.  It only took three hours.  Just think – there was no red tape, no extra forms to fill out, nothing which would extend fixing the human problem into weeks perhaps years, or even lifetimes.  All of it was finished in just three hours.

And perhaps what is even more staggering is that the whole package is available to everyone who humbly comes to Jesus in repentance.  What is repentance but to agree that since Jesus has done it all and all has been finished when He declared it so, that despising what this sin has required of our Lord, in handing our rebellion over to Him and earnestly desiring to be done with that way of life, in deliberately receiving what He accomplished for our sakes, we experience a new life.  After all, in what greater way could God have shown how much He cares about us, cares about every one of us, but to do this?

There is in legal terms a court order called “Habeas Corpus,” which means, “You have the body” or in the case of the law, “you have the person.”  It is the demand by a judge to produce a person who has been imprisoned so as to discover whether he is legally in custody.  In a slightly different sense, standing alone, those words can have a fascinating meaning and are appropriate in our Easter celebration.  There are three “Habeas Corpuses” to be found in the Easter story.

The first is after Jesus has died and is being taken down from the Cross.  We “have the Body” – death seems to be most final when we are confronted with the body of someone.  It removes all doubting. There is no uncertainty whether this person might have escaped death.  Although the followers of Jesus did not know it just yet, what they handled was definite proof that indeed “It is finished” – all had been done to finally and completely secure our salvation.

Then on Easter, as the resurrected Jesus stood before His disciples, they now also “have the  Body” – but this is no limp, dead corpse.  Instead Jesus is alive!  “Handle Me and see” was the invitation.  To Thomas, “Put your finger into the print of the nails, your hand in My side!”  Just as the dead body is as final as you can get in regard to death, this resurrected Body is as final as you can get in regard to life.  The evidence is real, it is physical, it is for unmistakable confidence.  Jesus is alive.

Suddenly the seal of God is placed on all which has been done, the validation by God the Father Himself is stamped upon all which Jesus claimed and did.  It is a resurrection witnessed by people who were not prepared for such an event, by people who at first were thrown into confusion and bewilderment, even fear, when confronted by the reality of One once thoroughly dead, Who now has been raised to life again.  But their undeniable proof was that indeed, they “have the Body” of Jesus living in front of t hem!

But there is also one more “you have the Body” – again it is physical and real: it is to found here at the altar.  Jesus said, “this is My Body,” “this is My Blood” – the invitation to us as to the disciples that first Easter, “Handle Me and see” – recall the print of the nails in the hands and feet, the spear in the side.  Again, we discover that this is no remote God, but One Who comes into our midst, even in the tragedy of death among us, so that we might discover and have reassurance that all has indeed been accomplished and that the Resurrection stands before us.

Even in the midst of our grief, Easter provides powerful comfort and hope because we indeed “have the Body” of our Lord Jesus to remind us that death has been conquered, the final proof that our Salvation is complete, and that here at the altar we can once again “handle and see” that the reality – the proof of the Body – of the Resurrection stand before us and with us, extending His hand that we might walk with Him into eternal life.

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