“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!” These were the words of the US Administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer referring to the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003. I suppose the words could have referred to anyone, but everyone knew who was meant, and everyone knew that those words were a game changer – or were thought to be so.
There are so many situations in life where a short phrase has implications well beyond the words used. Think of when the numbers of votes are called out at elections; or of when a man and a woman stand before a priest and say, “I do.”
There is, however, one phrase which more than any other was and continues to be the greatest game-changer of all: “He is risen! He is truly risen!” It’s not the mere words which count, of course, but the reality they both express and embrace. “He is risen! He is truly risen!” This truth means not just that the man Jesus has personally experienced physical victory over death. They mean that death itself, the inevitable fate of mankind, no longer has the last say in human life.
Until Jesus truly rose, our mortal life was part of death. Death was a shadow over our earthly sojourn and it eventually prevailed. But his resurrection from death replaces that shadow with light, a light which death can no longer overpower. The resurrection of Jesus means not that life is part of death, but that death is now part of life, understanding by that the transformation of death into life of God.
Had Jesus not died the way he did, and risen as he did, there would have been no exit from the tomb for us. His death, unlike ours, was not the result of sin, but the result of indestructible love. He died, not because he said “no” to the Father, but because he said “yes” to him. The Father invested that yes with the power to destroy all the “no’s” of all human beings. All our disobediences were gathered up and placed at the source of the “yes” of Jesus. This is what it means when we say that by his death Jesus destroyed our sins and therefore our death. His “yes” obliterated our “no’s” and emasculated death in the process.
The words “He is risen! He is truly risen!” prove that the Father accepted the “yes” of Jesus and therefore the end to the reign of sin and death. And so it is that, when we are baptized in Jesus by faith in him, we partake of his “yes” to the Father and all our sins, original and personal, and our sentence of everlasting death have been destroyed.
The resurrection of Jesus is thus the radical healing of our humanity, the restoration to its original integrity, its return to the “garden of paradise” to walk calmly and blissfully in the evening breeze with the Trinity.
The words, “He is risen! He is truly risen!” usher in a new era in human history. In fact, they proclaim that history itself begins again in Christ and that it will come to its end and fulfilment in Christ. This does not happen in pomp and circumstance. No-one saw Jesus rise from the dead. Rather, it happens in a hidden way, like the leaven in the dough, or the seed growing gradually in the ground.
And it happens, not by decree or promulgation, but one soul at a time. Each soul that is baptised becomes a new cell in the risen body of the Lord. The Body grows and expands, like the branches on the vine, in each moment of history and across the centuries. It grows and expands in each place and across the world. Baptism is our birth into the new and risen life of the Risen Lord, incorporating us into his very body. Baptism is the pledge of deathlessness given to us by the Lord who feeds us with his very own body and blood.
And so, in these sacred days we do not simply recall past events relating to the person of Jesus Christ as if they were simply for our example or moral instruction. No, we truly relive those events in sign and sacrament. The death and resurrection of Jesus are not limited to their historical occurrence because their effects are eternal. And because of that, they are able to re-occur in our and every time. That is why the Lord instituted the sacraments, so that the eternal graces contained in his death and resurrection could be made available to every generation of believers.
What we do here, in these sacred Liturgies, is to share in the ongoing work of the Risen Lord. He makes all things new and he does it through the worship of Word and Sacrament. By our faith, we are letting him achieve the very purpose for which he was born in Bethlehem, died on Golgotha and rose from the grave. Our simple actions, attentive presence and active participation in these Liturgies have consequences for ourselves and for the world far beyond our imagining. We do them in our churches, largely hidden from the world, as Christ’s own resurrection was unseen. But also like his resurrection, our sacramental re-enactment of it is a game-changer for the world, for the Church and for our own lives. I repeat: it does not happen dramatically, but gradually, patiently and irrevocably.
“He is risen! He is truly risen!” These words are the substance of our hope, the basis of our faith, the inspiration of our love. Because of these words, St. Paul could say, “I consider that the sufferings we must endure in this life are worth nothing in comparison with the glory that awaits us.” These words are the reason why martyrs surrender their lives. They are the reason why the truth of Christ is infallible, why the Spirit of Christ keeps the Church indefectible in the truth. These words draw our minds and hearts to the person of Christ to trust him when we are sick or sinful. These words cut across the discourses and speechifying of men like a pure beam of light across the muddled confusion of the shadows of the night.
Whenever life is dark, or whenever what is negative and evil seems to be gaining the upper hand in or around us, we must defiantly and persistently repeat these words to ourselves and, if needed, to others. Let that beam shine!
In Greece there is the beautiful custom by which one person will greet another, not with “hello” but with “Christ is risen!” (Christos aneste), and the other then responds, “He is truly risen!” (Alethos aneste). What a simple and beautiful way to help us keep perspective in our lives! So, let us start doing that, too! So, I say to you in a loud voice, “He is risen!” Let me hear you, now – He is truly risen!”