We’re in the second week of the Easter season, our celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Gospels, especially Matthew’s, preserve for us several accusations of conspiracy by everyone from the disciples to the Roman soldiers set to guard the tomb of Jesus, in an attempt to disprove the fast-spreading story of the resurrection. There were also threats to kill Lazarus to quell the story of Jesus raising him from the dead.
Perhaps this context made me notice the story in the New York Times about the exhumation of the body of Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, who died 40 years ago this September. The picture with the article shows classical musicians playing a Neruda work set to music by Vicente Bianchi as the remains were lifted from the ground.
A second story explained that this has happened before generally to prove or disprove whether the death of a cultural icon was actually murder. In most cases the results have been inconclusive. The exhumations themselves seem to be done to prove some sort of political point rather than for any sort of forensic evidence.
Last Sunday we heard the story of the apostle Thomas and his demand for the Risen Lord to prove that he was the same man who was crucified. In the end, he didn’t need physical proof. Jesus’s willingness to meet Thomas in the midst of his doubts and reassure him was enough. We don’t need to dig up the dead or even cling to the earthly remains of those who have left us. What really matters lives on.
So much in our lives happens apart from concrete, scientific proof—love, poetry, eternal life, faith itself. Ilan Stavans, author of the Times’ op-ed piece and a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, says, “Life cannot be repressed, [Neruda] whispered in everyone’s ears. It was a message for which he may have died, but that lives on in his verse.”
John’s Gospel tells us, “Blessed are you, Thomas, because you have seen me. But more blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”