JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN!
HE IS RISEN, INDEED, TO DIE NO MORE! ALLELUIA!
Today is Easter Sunday, and on this feast day we joyfully celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the greatest and the most solemn feast in the Church, for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest of all miracles – it proves that Jesus Christ is truly God. It is the feast of joy and triumph. It is the feast of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. It is the feast of Jesus freeing us from the bondage of sin and death. It is the feast of Jesus transforming us and making us a new creation – He gives us a new heart and a new life in the Holy Spirit. ‘Easter’ literally means ‘the feast of fresh flowers,’ and we celebrate it as a feast of new life with intense pride and great jubilation.
- The Light Left Behind
A small boy from a non-Christian home had been brought into the Sunday school. His mother was not only unsaved, but she had a morbid fear of death. After her little boy became interested in the Sunday school he begged her to come to church with him, but she persistently refused his entreaties because she was afraid that the preacher might say something about death or dying. On Easter Sunday the teacher noticed the lad’s rapt attention while she told the beautiful story of the risen Christ. The child hastened home with a shining face, and exclaimed, “Oh, Mother, you needn’t be afraid of dying any more, for Jesus went through the grave and left a light behind Him!” Gradually the fear in her heart melted under the influence of her son’s words about “the light behind Him.” Early one evening she had put him to bed and heard him pray as he did nightly that God would make her a Christian, “and do it right quick!” he added. Later that evening a neighbor persuaded the mother to go to church. The Heaven-sent message brought conviction, and that night her little boy’s prayer was answered!—Sunday School Times.
- Christ, a Living Saviour
A missionary in Turkey wished to teach to a group of people the truth of the resurrection of Christ. He said: “I am traveling, and have reached a place where the road branches off in two ways; I look for a guide, and find two men: one dead, and the other alive. Which of the two must I ask for direction, the dead or the living?” “Oh, the living,” cried the people. “Then,” said the missionary, “why send me to Buddha, who is dead, instead of to Christ, who is alive!”—Christian Endeavor World.
- Not Afraid—Home Is Just Beyond
I read once of a little girl whose home was near a cemetery, and in order to go to the store, she had to follow a path that led through the cemetery. But this little girl never seemed to have any sense of fear, even when she returned through the cemetery at dusk. Someone said to her, “Aren’t you afraid to go through the cemetery?” “Oh, no,” she replied, “I’m not afraid, for my home is just beyond.”
Are you afraid of the cemetery?
Not if you are a Christian, and know that your Home is just beyond.—The Biblical Echo.
- “Jesus Defeated Death”
An aged verger of Winchester Cathedral never tired of standing on the Cathedral roof and relating the story of how the news of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon reached England. News of the history-making battle came by a sailing vessel to the south coast, and by semaphore was wig-wagged overland toward London. Atop Winchester Cathedral the semaphore began to spell out the eagerly awaited message: “W-e-l-l-i-n-gt-o-n—D-e-f-e-a-t-e-d—,” and then a dense fog settled oppressively over the land! The semaphore could no longer be seen, and thus the sad, heartbreaking news of the incomplete message went on to London, whelming the country in gloom and despair: “Wellington Defeated!”
But, ere long, the fog lifted, and again the signaling semaphore atop the Cathedral became visible, spelling out the complete message of the battle. “W-e-ll-i-n-g-t-o-n —D-e-f-e-a-t-e-d—t-h-e—E-n-e-m-y!” Now the message was all the more glorious because of the preceding gloom. Like the spread of a prairie fire, the joyful news spread across the land, and lifted the spirits of the people onto a plane of gratitude and jubilant praise: “Wellington Defeated the Enemy!”
In the long years ago, on a hill lone and gray, situated without the city’s gate, the sinless Son of God gave Himself willingly in a vicarious death upon His cruel cross for the sin of the world. The prophet Amos had predicted an interesting thing about the awesome scene in these words: “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9). His prophecy was literally fulfilled, for Luke tells us: “And it was about the sixth hour (noon), and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst” (Luke 23:44, 45). As that dense darkness enshrouded the land, obscuring from the gaze of man the open shame to which the Sufferer on the central cross was being submitted, “Jesus cried with a loud voice,” and then He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). As He thus died, the darkness deepened for His fearful followers. To them Calvary meant but one thing: “J-E-S-U-S—D-E-F-E-A-TE-D.” Placing His limp, lifeless body in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimatheea, the persistent thought of their troubled hearts reiterated its hopeless message: “Jesus Defeated!”
During the three days of His entombment, all hell was vibrant with ghoulish glee, for the prince of darkness, Satan, had apparently triumphed over the Sun of righteousness. Did ever a darkness so deep envelop the hearts of God’s children as the darkness which whelmed the souls of Jesus’ disciples while His body lay in the tomb? We think not! Listen to their dismal dirge: “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done” (Luke 24:21). How unbelieving and undiscerning were His followers: “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9) ! Betimes, the Saviour had foretold His death and resurrection: “After three days I will rise again” (Matt. 27:63); but they either misunderstood or disbelieved what He said.
The three dreary days dragged to their close, then suddenly the darkness lifted. The white radiance of a Lord’s day morning flooded an Eastern garden, as the gladsome, gloom-dispelling news spread: “J-E-S-U-S—D-E-F-E-A-TE-D—D-E-A-T-H!” —In, “Because He Lives,” by Walter Brown Knight
- Years ago, Larry, an old municipal lamplighter, engaged in putting out his lights one by one, was met by a reporter who asked him if he ever grew tired of his work in the cold dark night. “Never am I cheerless,” said the old man, “for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on.” “But what do you have to cheer up when you have put out the last light?” asked the news writer. “Then comes the dawn,” said Larry, the lamplighter.
A man of the world might have asked Jesus the same question. One light after another did he put out – the lamp of popular acclaim, the lamp of patriotic approval, the lamp of ecclesiastical conformity – all for the sake of God’s love which burned in his heart and showed him a better way. At last even the light of his life was to flicker out on the hill called Calvary. What then? We hear his voice, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and then the dawn came. And that is the Lord Jesus’ Resurrection.
IF CHRIST IS NOT RISEN, then our faith has no meaning. Easter, not Good Friday, is the climax of Holy Week. The resurrection is not just an appendix to Jesus’ death, a “proof” of his divinity.
Jesus leads the way by going through death to a life that can never be taken away from him again. “We know that Christ, being raised from death, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” And that life is shared with us. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance”, says Jesus.
Peter in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the mandate that follows from the resurrection. He and his fellow disciples are to proclaim the Good News about the Risen Jesus. The Jesus who will give new life to every single person who accepts him as Lord, who accepts him as the Way, Truth and Life. Peter and his fellow disciples are called “apostles”, people sent out on a mission, “ambassadors for Christ”, Paul calls them.
We, too, share that mission. We are not just disciples, followers of Jesus. We are also meant to be his living ambassadors. No one will know about Jesus and what he means for our lives unless we tell them.
Many people get baptised at the Easter Vigil. Not a single one of them came to the Church without the intervention of some Christian(s) somewhere. The Good News about Jesus is not to be kept a secret. There are many people out there waiting to hear it. They are depending on you and me, members of Christ’s Body, to tell them.
The Second Reading tells us about the implications of all of this for us. Through Baptism you have died to your own sinful and egotistic self and you have been raised up to a new life with Christ. You are a Christian. This life is hidden. In its fullness, it will appear in the life to come.
The Lesson is: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” This is a strong Semitic saying with the obvious meaning: Do not be so captivated by the tinsel of life or so infected with the commercialism of the day that you lose sight of the things above!
Nearly all of the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels present the Apostles and disciples on a journey to deeper faith. In stages, they come out of the darkness of despair and of this world into the light of faith. Matthew’s account (28:1-10), which is read at the Easter Vigil this year and can also be read at Masses during the day, is no exception. I have also commented on John’s Gospel that is often read on Easter morning (From Fear to Faith).
Let’s look at the Easter journey that Mary Magdalene and Mary (likely, Mary the mother of James and Joseph) make out of darkness into light. Mark (16:1) adds that Salome, the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, went with them. From Luke (24:10) it also appears that Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chusa, was with them. Hence, though Matthew only mentions two women by name, it would seem that our analysis should include these four women. As these women journey through the events of Easter morning we see their faith deepen and brighten. In a condensed sort of way, we see in this a microcosm of the whole life of the Christian. In a similar way we, journeying in stages, come to a deeper faith and a brighter vision of the Paschal mystery that is our life.
Let’s observe their journey in four stages…..
Stage One – Disturbance at Dawn
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
Note that in this first stage it is still quite dark. The text here says, with hope, that the new day was dawning. The Greek word actually used, however, properly means as the first day “approached” or drew on without specifying the precise time. Mark (16:1-2) says that it was very early in the morning (at the rising of the sun), that is, not that the sun “was risen” but that it was about to rise or that it was the early break of day. Luke (24:1) notes that it was “very early in the morning” (in the Greek text it was “deep twilight” or when there was scarcely any light). John (20:1) says that it was “very early, while it was yet dark,” that is, it was not yet fully daylight nor had the sun risen.
So the point is that it is still quite dark but dawn is near! And all this creates an air of great expectation for us who read the account. An old song in the Taizé Community says, “Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away!”
Next, there is a great earthquake! Sometimes God has to shake things up to open new doors and new vision. And in our lives, too, there are often violent shakings. But remember, we are at the dawn of a new day. In just a few short years, if we are faithful, we’ll be with God. And so it is that this earthquake is not unto destruction but is unto the opening of the tomb that has claimed our Lord and unto the opening of tombs that have claimed us emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. This earthquake, frightening though it may seem, serves only to draw these women deeper into the Paschal mystery and toward the risen Christ.
Now notice that they haven’t seen him yet or even heard that he is risen; there is only this earthquake, but it has a purpose. Yet for now, it is barely dawn and things are still very unclear to them.
Stage Two – Declaration: Do Not Be Afraid
Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Note that the angel summons them to deeper faith. He exclaims, “Do not be afraid.” Now to most of us this may seem to be almost a “throwaway” line, one we often hear when we are perceived by others to be anxious. And frankly, when others say this to us, it is both annoying and unhelpful. But in this case the angel presents a basis for their faith to grow and their anxiety to dissipate.
That they should not be anxious or afraid is firmly rooted in the Lord’s promise and in His Word. The angel is reminding them that the Lord had promised to rise on the third day, and that He has done just as He said. The Lord, who had raised others from death and healed multitudes, has now done exactly what He promised.
Hence, the angel summons them to grow in their faith by pondering the Word of Jesus Christ and by coming to trust in His promise.
The angel also presents evidence to them: the empty tomb. He invites them to connect the dots between the promise of Jesus and the present evidence of an empty tomb.
So it’s getting brighter, by the power of God’s Word and the application of that Word to the present situation.
We, too, must journey through this stage as we become more deeply immersed in God’s Word and apply it to our present situation. As we grow in knowledge and remembrance of God’s promises and His Word, our anxiety begins to diminish. This happens especially when, like these women, we begin to connect God’s Word with what is actually happening in our life. We start to notice the empty tombs, the many signs of God’s favour and blessing. Things start to add up and we begin to connect the dots between faith and experience. And as we do this, it gets brighter and our faith grows stronger.
Stage Three – Deepening Dispatch
Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”
Learn by teaching – Having been instructed in the Paschal mystery and grown deeper in their faith, they are sent by the Lord to inform others. An interesting aspect of teaching is that we often learn more by teaching than we ever learned as a mere student. Hence we grow in our faith as we begin to teach and testify to it. The acts of teaching and witnessing cause us to grow.
But note the text, “Behold, I have told you.” The true faith is received from God. St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing.” Do NOT go off and invent your own faith; that is a very bad idea! We receive the faith from God through the Church and through the Scriptures approved by the Church. These women had first been instructed by God’s angel and only after that were they told to go and tell the disciples. We, too, are instructed by the Church. Our faith comes from what we hear; then we pass on what we have heard.
So these women are sent. And as they go, we shall see that they have a great breakthrough. But prior to that breakthrough they are sent to witness, to proclaim. And this very act, for them and for us, deepens faith even more.
There is one final stage that they must attain, for they are still only able to pass on what others have said. They have not yet personally seen the Risen Lord; that comes next.
Stage Four – The Discovery that is Definitive
Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Here we see an important and powerful stage—one that too many Christians ignore. Note that in this moment they go from inference to experience. Inference is a form of knowledge based only on what others have said; experience includes personal witness. Experience means that I myself can personally vouch for the truth of what I proclaim. As we have seen, inference is a necessary stage of our faith (do not go inventing your own religion). But the Lord invites us deeper to more personally experience the truth of what the Church has always proclaimed and what her Scriptures have always announced.
From inference to experience – These women have heard from the angel that Jesus is risen and they receive the teaching with joy. But on the way, on the road of their lives, they come to personally meet the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Suddenly the truth of what they have been taught is made quite personal to them and they experience it as real; they have gone from inference to experience. And now they will tell not only what they have heard from others but also how they have personally experienced its truth.
We, too, are invited to do the same. I need to be able to say that in the laboratory of my own life I have come to personally experience as true all that the Church and her Scriptures proclaim. I am now a firsthand witness to Jesus for I have experienced Him personally in my life. I have met Him in my prayer and in my experience. He is alive and real to me and He is changing my life. I have done more than just hear about the Lord; I have met Him. I do not merely know about Him, I know Him.
Do you know the Lord, or do you just know about Him? Have you met Him or have you just heard about Him? On Easter Sunday morning we have observed a group of women go from the darkness of this world to the light of the normal Christian life. And what is the normal Christian life? It is to be in living, conscious contact with God and to know, personally, the Lord of all glory. It is to be in a living and transformative relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, our God who transformed the death of Jesus by his glorious resurrection can transform our experiences of dying. Saint Paul urges us in the second reading to see our lives through this prism of transformation that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let that prism reflect God’s love to us. Dispense God’s love in us — show us that we are so loved by God that He sent us a Savior who hung on a tree but who is raised to life.
Let Easter bring new life to all of us despite whatever catastrophe we may face in the world or in our own personal situations. Let Him RISE in Us. Let this Easter celebration break open our tombs of fear, sin, worries, difficulties, problems, and fill us with Hope – with life. Let Christ RISE in YOU TODAY. We are the Easter and Alleluia People!
HE IS RISEN! CELEBRATE THE SAVIOUR!
WISH YOU ALL A JOYFUL EASTER!
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.