Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia!
Let me approach this Easter as if you were not believers. Let us suppose for the moment that you, for whatever reason, had not yet come to know Jesus Christ, or His message called the Gospel, and that you had come here because you had heard that a man was risen from the dead. Let’s suppose also that you were open to hearing about this Jesus and his being raised from the dead and were curious. Let’s also assume that you do believe there is some kind of God.
Let me, then, introduce you to Jesus. Who is he?
Jesus lived at a certain point in history, 2000 years ago, at a certain place in the Middle East, now called Israel. Like all human beings, he was born, he lived, he suffered, like the rest of us, and he died. During that time before his death he revealed to us what God is like. He not only taught about the love of God, but his teaching poured out in his working miracles of healing and forgiveness.
He revealed that the justice of God is not vengeance and retribution, but forgiveness and mercy. He also revealed that suffering is not meaningless but is to be shared with all people as the way of redemption, the way of becoming who we are really meant to be; and he went this way in what is called the Pascal Mystery: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, now truly risen from the dead.
His revelation of who God is includes an invitation to enter in ever increasing ways into the very mystery of God, that through our union with Christ we learn that He is God, God in the flesh, that God has so entered into human existence, that “spirit and blood now have a place in God.” For Jesus Christ is truly human and truly divine.
This man Jesus Christ is not a story about some deceased individual, albeit a truly inspirational teacher, who came back to life at a certain point in time. No, this Jesus truly rose from the dead, and now no longer is subject either to death, or to the deathly things of unredeemed humanity. But in his resurrection an ontological leap has taken place, a shift in being itself, a new thing has happened: humanity has entered into another dimension, a dimension that affects us all, creating for all of us a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God.
This Jesus, risen from the dead, has by his death on the cross reversed the ancient tendency to be selfish, to return evil for evil. In him, the human race has ceased to be in rebellion against God and has entered into communion with God.
Jesus was born, lived, suffered and died at specific points in time, but his resurrection is not the same kind of historical event. The resurrection did in fact happen at a specific moment, on the third day after his crucifixion, but the essence of the resurrection is that it opens up a new space that transcends history. His resurrection is something new, a new type of event; and it is open to all of us.
Pope Benedict in the 2nd volume of his book, Jesus of Nazareth, describes the resurrection of Jesus as an “evolutionary leap.” Benedict says, “Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint in history. Therefore, it can be attested to by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.”
Those witnesses were the apostles, who went from being uneducated fishermen and other such workers drawn by Jesus into his inner circle to hear his words, see his deeds, and witness his death and resurrection. He, after rising from the dead, commissioned these ordinary men to bring this message to the world. If all this had not actually happened, if the resurrection were not true, there is no way a small group of uneducated Galileans could have persuaded the people of the Roman Empire to embrace a crucified savior. If Jesus were not truly raised from the dead, where would have come their willingness to die as martyrs?
As St. Paul says in Corinthians 15: "And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all."
But we do believe; and because we believe, we are the most blessed of all! Happy Easter!