First of all, please allow me to wish you an happy and blessed Easter, and to thank all of you who joined in making the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter possible.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul wrote to the Christians of that Greek city that the Crucifixion of Christ was a “stumbling block to the Jews and a foolishness to the Gentiles.” He was saying that our Lord’s death on the Cross seemed to the Jewish people to be a sure sign that Jesus was not the messias, for they expected the messias to be a victor who would vanquish the foes of Israel—certainly not one who seemed to be among the vanquished Himself. To the non-Jews—the Gentiles—the idea that Christ the King, the true Son of God, would give Himself to die in agony like a common criminal, seemed the height of foolishness.
But those of you who have read the Scriptures, or who have taken part in the liturgy of this past Holy Week, should have a better perspective than either the Jews or the Gentiles. So let us briefly go over what we have seen:
For the two weeks before this feast of Easter, the Masses of the season have included the Preface of the Holy Cross. The “Preface” is that prayer which begins with the dialog: “Lift up your hearts – We have lifted them up unto the Lord” and ends with the “Holy, Holy, Holy” – the “Sanctus” that introduces the Canon of the Mass. The Preface varies with the season, and often has some valuable theological “nugget” to explain the theme of the season.
In the Preface of the Holy Cross, we hear that “God set the salvation of mankind upon the tree of the Cross, so that whence came death, thence also life might rise again; so that [the devil] who overcame [the first man] by the tree, by the tree might also be overcome.” The “tree,” of course, refers to the tree of the fruit of original sin in the garden of Eden; but the “tree” then also refers to the wood of the Cross. In a sort of medicinal way, Christ “cures like by like.”
Yet, in itself, the Crucifixion is not enough. Even if the Cross of Christ had been made of the very same tree of the garden of Eden, the death alone of Christ on the Cross would have been of no advantage to mankind. If there were only Christ’s death to speak of, it would be just one more defeat at the hands of the devil.
But in Holy Week, we have seen that there was much more than just this seeming defeat on the Cross. On Holy Thursday, as Christ offered the first Mass, He offered His body and blood in sacrifice—as, indeed, whenever Mass is offered, it is done in union with the Sacrifice of the Cross: “This is My body, which is given for you ... this is My blood, which will be shed for you and for many in forgiveness of sins.” On Holy Thursday, the Son of God promised not a senseless death, but the redemption of mankind and the forgiveness of a multitude of His people.
What Christ promised—and delivered—was that “by dying on the Cross, He would destroy our death, and by rising, He would restore us to life.”
Now, obviously, the idea of “Resurrection,” that someone might arise from the dead and rejoin the living, is a difficult one for people to accept. Saint Luke relates in the Acts of the Apostles that when Saint Paul mentioned the Resurrection to the men of Athens at the Areopagus, “man of them sneered at him. But some of them said ‘we will hear more about this later.’”
There is the testimony of witnesses. The Gospels were written by men who had nothing at all to gain by their writing: three of the four died as martyrs, the fourth suffered torture and exile for preaching Christ. The Gospels speak of our Lord raising other people form the dead on three separate occasions: the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow at Naim, and the resurrection of Lazarus after being four days in the tomb. They are unanimous in describing the Resurrection of Jesus, and they speak of His living amongst them for forty days before His Ascension into heaven.
Paul was also a witness, both repeating the testimony of others, and also speaking at first hand:
But it is important to recognize that even the Resurrection of Christ is not some miracle that was worked quite apart from us. “By rising again He has restored us to life.” In writing to the Christians at Rome, Paul reminded them:
That is the reason that Easter is the Church’s primary baptismal feast; the reason that we bless baptismal water each year at the Easter Vigil. By Baptism, we are incorporated into our Lord’s Resurrection—by Baptism we become capable of eternal life.
Now, there are three possible reactions to the news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There will always be those who, like some of Paul’s listeners at Athens, just sneer and go away, disbelieving.
There were, of course, those who had actually witnessed the Resurrection: Mary Magdalene at the grave site, John and Peter, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the other Apostles, the five hundred or so, and Paul on the road to Damascus. They had little choice but to believe what they had seen.
Finally, there are those of us—the vast majority of people who, by the simple accident of being born in a different time and place, did not have the opportunity of seeing the resurrected Jesus in person. We too can sneer, like the men of Athens, and some choose to do precisely that. But, on the other hand, God has given us the grace to hear much more of the testimony than the men of Athens heard before they just walked away. We even know that Saint Thomas the Apostle, who himself doubted the word of the other Apostles, was able to examine the wounds of our risen Lord with his own hands—to probe the wounds of Jesus hands’ with his finger, and to place his hand into the spear wound on Jesus’ side. He doubted, so that we might believe. “Because you have seen Me [Thomas], you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen Me and have yet believed.”
At least equally important, we have already received the grace of Baptism. It is relatively easy for us to believe, not just because of all the witnesses, but because we have been marked with the indelible mark of faith on our souls. And faith is nothing other than that: Believing what God has revealed, simply because God, who cannot deceive, has revealed it.
Sometimes our faith wavers a bit. The craziness of the world sometimes seems to try to convince us that there is no God and no Resurrection. That is why we have the opportunity each year to renew the promises of our Baptism, why we have the opportunity to frequently receive our risen Lord in Holy Communion, and to seek His forgiveness in Sacramental Confession. That is why we have the opportunity to celebrate Holy Week and Easter each year. God will sustain us in our faith if we but allow Him to do so.
Now, there remains just one more thing. Easter is supposed to be a joyous feast. Some of that is because it is an opportunity to spend pleasant time with friends or family—something which I hope all of you will do. But it is also joyous because it is the feast of the Resurrection and our consequent redemption. If the world is a bit crazy, it is so, at least partly, because we Christians have failed to communicate that joy to those around us. It is not only our privilege, but also our solemn duty to put on the gladsome face of rejoicing and enthusiasm, in order that those of the world may know that today Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
“This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”