St. Matthew gives us the most dramatic account of the Resurrection of all the four Gospels: the violent earthquake, the angel descending from heaven, etc.. But the basic fact remains the same: the Lord has risen from the dead. The Lord is truly risen.
This historical fact, faithfully recounted and passed on by reliable witnesses through the centuries until tonight, is the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ and in the Trinitarian God whom he revealed. If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain. All this, what we do here, the Catholic Church, the sacraments and all our teaching and way of life, it all means nothing if Christ is not risen. Without faith in the Resurrection, a Christian is not a Christian. Without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. By it, we stand or fall. If it is not true then, as St. Paul says, we are the most unfortunate of people. We are living an illusion.
But it is true. Christ is truly risen, as he said he would. And his Resurrection is an act greater than the act of creation itself. God created all things from nothing, but sin wanted to reduce all things to nothing. Worse. Sin not only wanted to reverse creation and destroy it but also, in utter madness, to unseat God himself and destroy Him. And Christ at first seems to go along with sin’s strategy. Sin exults when it kills Him. But in fact, in killing Him sin, its slavery and its dominion of death and hell, killed itself. Sin could not convict the sinless one, nor could death hold in hell the immortal King of heaven. So, Christ by rising eliminates from creation the forces of nothingness. He sets in motion the renewal of creation and most of all the renewal of his brothers and sisters in the flesh, the human race.
God’s love wanted to make man and woman free participants in his own life, but Adam and Eve thwarted that. Then, he tried to draw a people to himself, the Jewish nation, but again, time and again, they thwarted that. The Exodus symbolizes what Christ would do by his death and Resurrection. The Jewish nation is held in slavery to Pharaoh, as all sinners are bound in slavery to the Evil One. Moses is sent to lead the Jews to freedom. Christ is sent to free us from the dominion of evil. By Moses’ hand, God parts the waters and leads his people to the Promised Land. Jesus, who is God, himself parts the waters of death to lead us all through Himself to eternal life. Christ’s death, his leading the way through death into life, this is the real Exodus.
And how do we participate in Christ’s death to come to his life? This is the wonder of the first of all the sacraments, holy baptism. St. Paul spells it out for us in the reading to the Romans we have just heard. The full immersion in deep water was the external form of baptism in the early church and better symbolizes our entrance into death and into the tomb with Christ. Plunged three times into the waters, the adult rises out of it three times, each time confessing faith in the Father then the Son then the Holy Spirit. That external soaking and cleansing speaks to the soul and body being saturated and purified from original sin and personal sins. We die to our old self. We are infused with the graces of faith, hope and charity. We rise to our new self. We become temples of the Holy Spirit and sons and daughters of God the Father in Jesus, the Son. We become members of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, are called Christian and find the door opened to us not only to the other sacraments but, in time, to the Kingdom of heaven itself. Baptism makes us what God always intended us to be. By it, the Spirit truly but mystically unites us with the death of Christ, the burial of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. Baptism gives what Adam and Eve wanted to steal: it makes us like gods.
So, the Resurrection of Jesus is not just a personal victory for Him. He has made it a personal and collective victory for us. Indeed, that’s why he died and rose. For us. He has also made it a victory for the whole of creation. As the very first reading tonight made clear: creation finds its highest expression and fulfilment in the human being, male and female. The fall of humanity meant the decay of creation. The resurrection of humanity means the renewal of creation.
The Resurrection means that the tombstone is not a dead end, but a stepping stone. It means that how we live now, what we believe now, the good people we struggle to be now, the effort of sweat and pain and tears and suffering now are not all for nothing. No, they are all for everything. The love and patience, the compassion and kindness, the sheer grit, the many and varied gifts and skills we have developed in this life will shine out in their true beauty and worth in Christ’s eternity. The Resurrection is the source of our hope that the bad we see and do will not in the end prevail; it is our hope that the good we see and do will be revealed in their lasting beauty for ever. The Resurrection means that war, famine and disease will not be the ultimate or perpetual plight of the human race, but that we will share the eternal banquet of Christ in eternal health and peace.
Your faith in the Resurrection will be the basis of your trust in God when your time comes to leave this world. But in the here and now, it gives a radical unity to your life, for it is your rock in the shifting sands of times and circumstances, your buoy in stormy waters. The strength of your faith in the Resurrection will in turn give strength to your loved ones. It will not bring any easy answers or quick solutions or magical remedies. But it will bring fortitude of heart and soul, it will give perspective in times of confusion and doubt. It will be the quiet but unmistakeable foundation of your own life and of that of others. Your faith in the Resurrection will give you a share in its power.
Such faith will attract mockery, disdain or misbelief, perhaps even from those closest to you. But they know not what they do. Your faith will give you victory over death. What do others have to offer you in its place? Or what have you yourself to replace it? Nothing. And if others say they don’t need your faith, that they want to be free, that they are people of science and sophistication, then pray all the more for them, for though I’m sure you love them to bits, they are poor souls and need the visitation of God in their lives. Your witness may be that visitation.
The Resurrection of the dead at the end of time is rooted in what we celebrate on this Holy Night. These are solemn and profound feasts and they penetrate to the deepest consciousness of the human race. The raw and often violent and ruthless instinct for survival which every person has finds its counterpart and fulfilment in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe in no myth. The myth is rather not to believe and to consign yourself to nothing more than dust and ashes. We believe in the Truth. And the Truth in all its simple and majestic glory is this: The Lord is truly risen. Alleluia! Alleluia!