Helen Vorhees Brach (1911-1977)
By Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Zondervan,1998.
Brach Candy heiress Helen Vorhees Brach flew into O’Hare International Airport on a crisp autumn afternoon, stepped into a crowd, and promptly disappeared without a trace. For more than twenty years the mystery of what happened to this red-haired, animal-loving philanthropist has baffled police and journalists alike.
While investigators are convinced she was murdered, they haven’t been able to determine the specific circumstances, largely because they’ve never found her body. Police have floated some speculation, leaked tantalizing possibilities to the press, and even got a judge to declare that a con man was responsible for her disappearance. But absent a corpse, her murder officially remains unsolved. Nobody has ever been charged with her slaying.
The Brach case is one of those frustrating enigmas that keep me awake from time to time as I mentally sift through the sparse evidence and try to piece together what happened. Ultimately it’s an unsatisfying exercise; I want to know what happened, and there just aren’t enough facts to chase away the conjecture.
Occasionally bodies turn up missing in pulp fiction and real life, but rarely do you encounter an empty tomb. Unlike the case of Helen Brach, the issue with Jesus isn’t that he was nowhere to be seen. It’s that he was seen, alive; he was seen, dead; and he was seen, alive once more. If we believe the gospel accounts, this isn’t a matter of a missing body. No, it’s a matter of Jesus still being alive, even to this day, even after publicly succumbing to the horrors of crucifixion.
Skeptics claim that what happened to Jesus’ body is a mystery akin to Helen Brach’s disappearance— there’s not enough evidence, they say, to reach a firm conclusion. But others assert that the case is effectively closed. This wasn’t a missing persons case. Jesus had risen again.
The empty tomb, as an enduring symbol of the resurrection, is the ultimate representation of Jesus’ claim to being God. The apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:17 that the resurrection is at the very core of the Christian faith: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Theologian Gerald O’Collins put it this way: “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.”
The resurrection is the supreme vindication of Jesus’ divine identity and his inspired teaching. It’s the proof of his triumph over sin and death. It’s the foreshadowing of the resurrection of his followers. It’s the basis of Christian hope. It’s the miracle of all miracles.
I Corinthians 15:17 — If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
I Corinthians 15:19 — If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
I Corinthians 15:1-6 — I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer