Today is Easter Sunday.
This is the day when the mute finality of death was transformed into a life-promising passage.
This is the day when fear-begetting religion was changed into grace-filled faith.
This is the day when time-bound humanity was freed from its limitations to taste eternity.
This day is truly the day when everything changed. On this day was born the Church, for without the resurrection, there would be no Church. The whole of the Christian faith hangs on this one fact: that Jesus of Nazareth, who had been tortured, crucified, killed and buried, revealed himself a few days after his death as fully alive, alive with a life beyond all human imagining. Without this belief, the whole story of Jesus makes no sense. Without this belief, the whole history of the Church is one terrible mistake. As Saint Paul puts it bluntly: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Cor 15:19).
Doubters will say that this is only fantasy, the product of humanity’s unwillingness to face the stark reality of its own mortality. For them, life ends with the body’s final breath and everything else is but wishful thinking. They ask for proof that Christ rose from the dead. They say that the Apostles made it all up.
I agree: there is no proof. May I suggest, however, that there are many questions? To start with, why would the Apostles have made up such a story? There was nothing in the Jewish tradition to suggest the Messiah would die and be brought back to life. As a matter of fact, the death of Jesus on the cross could only mean one thing to the Jewish mind: that Jesus was not the Messiah, that God had spurned him, rejected him, revealed him to be a fraud.
The Apostles’ own lives were in danger. None had stayed to witness Jesus’ death, except for young John who stayed with Mary. Judas had taken his own life. Peter had run away crying. When, after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples dared to gather, it was in fear that they also would be hunted down to be tortured and killed. Some, like the disciples from Emmaus, headed straight back home, their hearts full of sadness and despair. Others, like the women, thought only of completing the burial rituals that had been hurried on the eve of the Sabbath.
What happened to change them so radically? What transformed them from this fear-filled, hope-dashed, dispirited collection of frail humanity into a faith-filled, hope-inspiring, courageous community of believers? What gave them the ability to leave Jerusalem, no longer to hide from the authorities but to preach a Good News to the world? What gave them the courage to face persecution, torture and death with a prayer in their hearts and a smile on their lips?
Something unexpected happened to them that first Easter Sunday morning. Something that would give meaning to their lives, purpose to their journey and strength to their hearts.
They say they met the living Lord Jesus.
And isn’t it extraordinary that many who, throughout the centuries, have listened to their testimony and opened their hearts and minds to the possibility that it is true have found the same meaning, purpose and strength in their own lives.
We gather every Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We gather this Easter Sunday with particular joy and solemnity to emphasize what is true of every Sunday: this first day of the week is also the first day of a new world, a world of faith, hope and love. Christ is risen! Indeed, he is truly risen! Alleluia!