Romans, 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10
No-one witnessed the resurrection of Jesus. But, then again, no-one witnessed the creation of the world. And the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation, the new world. In Mel Gibson’s, “The Passion of the Christ”, it is moving to see Mary run to Jesus fallen under the Cross. Her look appears to give him strength and, as he gets up, Gibson puts into the mouth of Jesus the words which St. John records the Risen Jesus as saying in the book of the Apocalypse: “Behold, I make all things new.” Jesus knew that what he was going through had a purpose. The purpose was not just his own personal resurrection butthe renewal of the whole cosmos and especially of the human race. This he achieved by his resurrection from the dead.
At his incarnation, the Son of God took on a sinless human nature from the sinless Virgin Mother. He did it so as to take all sin and guilt onto himself and destroy it in his body on the Tree. Sin having been thus destroyed, at his resurrection that human nature is possessed, swooped up, by the glory of the divine life. The Exsultet trumpets these words: “Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King.” What powerful and beautiful words! They well describe the risen humanity of the Son of God: ablaze with light and flooding the earth with divine glory.
Although the resurrection took place in an instant of time within this world, at the moment Jesus rose, it belongs more properly to the eternity of the new heavens and the new earth. For, all the Gospels leave us with is an empty tomb and a shroud cast aside. No-one sees his glory as he rises. For although the eyes of our nature can see many a beautiful thing, they are incapable of beholding directly the glory of the risen Jesus. Indeed, after his resurrection, only those with the eyes of faith are given the power to see him, and even then with his glory veiled. For no man can actually see God as God and live. And Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead is God.
Yet, Jesus did not rise for himself only, as he did not suffer or die for himself only. He did all this for our sake, pro nobis. How, then, are we exactly to share in his suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension? Well, first, we must truly want to share in it. We must give our yes. He will not force us, but awaits our consent. That consent has a name. We call it faith, but it’s not a faith we make up by ourselves or chop and change to suit ourselves. No, it’s a true, objective and full faith, the faith of the Catholic Church in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
If I have that faith in my heart and on my lips, then I am ready to be shown how to share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How, then, is it done? How does he actually get us into those great mysteries of himself? The Lord has provided in his tenderness the most simple of means for us: water. The Spirit of the Risen Jesus, acting through the water and the words of the one who baptizes, then completely and objectively unites our spirits with Jesus, and to one another, in his suffering, in his crucifixion, in his death and in his resurrection. That’s what St. Paul is saying that reading we just heard from the Letter to the Romans. By baptism we actually co-suffer with Christ, are co-crucified with him, we co-die with him, are co-buried with him and we co-rise with him. Baptism places us within Christ and his mysteries, all because of water, the Spirit and the words which baptise us and because we have believed in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of baptism is the sacrament of eternal life, the sacrament of the resurrection. It is the sacrament of the victory of love over sin, the victory of love that is stronger than death and better than life. Begun in our souls the day we were baptised, it will one fine day embrace our bodies and blossom into that blazing glory of which the Exsultet sang, speaking of Christ.
Baptism floods our entire being with the eternal life of Jesus and he then works inus, with us and upon us to strengthen, feed, cleanse and direct that life within us. It is through the sacraments and through hearing and believing the divine truth that the glory of his resurrection grows gradually and imperceptibly within us. By our faith, hope and love and by trying to live in accordance with a properly formed conscience, we do our part to show our gratitude and our desire to live with him in this life and in the next.
All of this is given to us because Jesus was born, died and rose again out of love for us. Without him, we would have been living a kind of life-long palliative experience, with certain death and no hope. As the Exsultet puts it, “Our birth would have been no gain had we not been redeemed.”
But we have been redeemed! All of us! Every single human being has the possibility of taking on board the redemption which Christ has provided. The question is whether we want it, and want it on Christ’s terms, not on ours. Whether someone wants it or not, or knows it or not, or agrees with it or not does not change the reality: redemption has been won by Jesus for all. That redemption and the means which Jesus has provided for us to access it are always there for people to come to, or to return to. The offer of salvation will last as long as we live and as long as history endures.
The Gospel tells us that the women came to the tomb just as dawn was breaking. Well, that dawn is always breaking. A hymn recites, “Morning has broken.” Perhaps, “Morning is always breaking” would have been better: for Jesus wants new beginnings for every one of us, every today and every tomorrow. The new creation is not just for Jesus and not just for the after-life. The new creation is now, for you and for me. The new beginnings, the new life, the new start in life, the new hope of redemption and healing and salvation are always dawning. With Jesus, there is always the hope of a new day.
So, if you are listening just now and you feel that your life has lost hope or that you are somehow beyond redemption or that you are held back by fears or anxieties or sins or failures or attachments to worldly things or whatever else you care to mention: the new dawn of Easter is for you! Jesus does not want you imprisoned in sin or failure or slavery to material things; he doesn’t want you entombed under a ton of oppressive things; he didn’t make you to linger in the shadows or to live only half your potential as someone eternally loved by him.
Jesus said of himself, “I will rise on the third day.” He knew he would be dead. He knew that everyone around him, bar a few, thought he was finished. But for him, it was not the end: far from it! Nor does he want you to think that you are somehow condemned to a shameful dead-end, that it’s too late, that it’s all over, that the game’s up, that you’re finished. Think of the good thief! Listen to these words of an ancient homily for Holy Saturday said by Jesus to Adam, who is truly dead and in the underworld: “I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.” If he can raise Lazarus from the tomb, if he can raise Adam from the underworld, if he can raise himself from the tomb, then Jesus can certainly raise you from whatever state or living tomb you are in! The words he said to Adam, he also says to you who feel far from God, from man and from society and even feel estranged from your own self.
There is always hope, not based on the vague reassurances of a well-meaning human being: no, there is always hope because of the certainty, the utter and definitive certainty, that Jesus is always risen. He is our hope. He is the basis of all our hope. Don’t let him pass you by. Don’t allow the clouds in your life to eclipse the radiant sun trying to get through, from within your own heart. The sun is not out there somewhere, it’s in your own heart. He is risen in you and trying to show the heat and warmth and light of his love to and in you. Put out both hands and grab his feet like the women in the Gospel who met him risen, and let him lift you up, not just to a better life, but to the throne of God. That’s your destiny! Not the bottom of a gutter!
The message of Easter is not an antidote for the weak-minded, or a distraction in time of pandemic. It appeals directly to the deepest need of every single human being to live for ever and to be loved for ever, and so in turn be able to love for ever. Far from being a distraction, it puts everything else that happens into perspective, including the darkest day, the darkest chapter in your life, the darkest thing you may have done or thought or said. It provides the true horizon within which all our experiences of life, suffering and death are to be understood. And that horizon is quite simply the eternal life and the eternal love of the Risen Saviour.
So, today of all days, let us all lift up our hearts with the rising Christ. Let us sing of his victory! Let us dance with joy! He contended with the deepest abyss of death and hell, a combat that ended in their utter and everlasting disgrace. If we want it, our present does not end in sin or failure, even if we sin or fail. It does not end in illness and suffering, even if we get ill and suffer. If we want it, our future does not end in the grave, even if we must die. How can I know that? How can I be so sure? How can I have such mad hope and daring trust? For one stupendous and irrefutable reason: it’s because the Lord is truly risen, alleluia, alleluia.