Christ has risen! Please allow me to wish you a holy and a happy Easter. Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Christ, who gave His eucharistic body and blood to His apostles on Holy Thursday, and who was put in the tomb on Good Friday, has this day triumphed over sin and death, and brought about our redemption. "This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
And please do accept my thanks, all of you who have in any way contributed to making this such a beautiful celebration in honor of our risen Lord.
Many years ago, Saint Paul wrote to the new Christians at Corinth: "If Christ has not risen, vain is your faith, for you are still in your sins." Christ, of course, has risen, and Paul was a witness to the fact. But the Apostle was trying to impress upon the Corinthians an appreciation for the connection between our Lord's resurrection and the virtue of Faith. To those who believe in the risen Christ there is redemption and forgiveness of sin -- His blood, shed on the Cross, was the price paid to redeem the human race -- and just as He rose from the tomb, so we have risen from the waters of Baptism, forgiven of our sins. And as often as we have sinned after those saving waters, He is waiting to forgive us again in the Sacrament of Penance, which, we should not forget, He instituted on Easter evening. Baptism is the Sacrament of Faith, and Penance is the Sacrament of repentance, presuming Faith. In the Easter Vigil we renewed our Baptismal promises, renouncing Satan and testifying that we believed in God the Father Almighty, and in all the other essential articles of our Faith.
And, we certainly have need of the graces of a good Easter to renew our Faith now and again. Make no mistake about it -- we are all subject to temptations against the Faith -- the Devil has no better way of taking our soul than to undermine our Faith. Everyone has personal difficulties and disappointments that seem to make us feel alone, and estranged from God. We are surrounded by people who deny that God even exists; people whose only conception of salvation is technological rather than sacramental. And just think of the terrible events we have witnessed since last Easter -- not just in the world, but in the Church as well. No one here is unaware of the terrible decline of the Faith in the Church over the past 40 years or so. Thank God we have this wonderful grace each year to remind us that God is with us and cares for us; that He is willing to forgive our sins no matter how great they may be.
Yet, there are those who will not believe. Saint Matthew tells us that there were guards placed at the tomb who persisted in denying the truth -- men who where right there at the time of the Resurrection, but who were willing to be bribed to deny it -- "we didn't see anything, because we fell asleep." Saint Augustine has quite a laugh out of their behavior -- the best that the enemies of the Cross could do was to summon sleeping men as witnesses. "There was a great earthquake, and the angel of the Lord ... rolled back the stone ... and the guards were terrified and became like dead men" -- yet they would claim that they had seen nothing! Presumably, there will always be men like these guards -- willing to disbelieve even their own senses, particularly if there is a little money in it. Somehow, dead to the graces of God, no matter how forcefully God extends them.
But, thankfully, we have received God's graces, and received them more profitably. In the entire Bible, there is no miracle more difficult for the non-believer to accept than the Resurrection. But the testimony in favor of accepting it is overwhelming. The rock was rolled back, the tomb was empty, and our Lord made Himself seen and heard by hundreds of witnesses; Mary Magdalen, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Apostles, and countless others. Everyday this coming week and for a half-dozen Sundays, the Gospels will recount event after event in which our Lord manifests Himself -- often in ways that are clearly physical; not as an hallucination, and not even as a ghost.
And the witnesses are credible. Far from receiving money in return for their testimony, like the non-believing temple guard, the witnesses to the Resurrection received nothing more than God's graces. Indeed, in large numbers, they often gave their lives rather than betray the truth of the Resurrection. Rather than trying to gain influence or wealth, these men and women were martyrs for the truth.
But today is not a day to speak of persecution and martyrdom. It is a day for rejoicing with God in the victory He has won over the Devil. We who were once strangers and servants have now become the adopted sons and daughters of God.
Jesus Christ is risen! "This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
1. Psalm cxvii: 24.
2. 1 Corinthians xv: 17.
3. John xx: 19-31.
4. Matthew xxviii: 1-15.
5. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 63 (Matins of Holy Saturday).