“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is the day when God raised Jesus from the dead and fulfilled all promises made of old to his people. This is the day when death has lost its sting when the prison gates are flung wide open and God’s people can once again walk in freedom and in the light of the Lord. The old man Simeon, at the presentation in the Temple, rejoiced that he could set his eyes on the infant Jesus. How much more does he rejoice today to see the adult and crucified Jesus raised from the dead and take his seat at the right hand of the Father. This is the day when the blind Bartimaeus is no longer a beggar on the side of the road but is set free to follow Jesus along the road. This is the day when the woman bent double for eighteen years is set free of her complaint and can stand upright and give praise and thanks to God. This is the day when the old wineskins are well past their sell by date and are confined to the dustbin of history because there is now a new wine flowing in abundance and we need new wineskins to contain it. This is the day when the new water of life is given us to drink so that we can all become fountains of living water welling up to eternal life.
It is interesting but perhaps not too surprising that the risen Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Here was someone totally dedicated to Jesus. She had followed him from Galilee all the way up to Jerusalem. She was there for his triumphant entry into the Holy City and then on Good Friday she was there at the foot of the cross. Even though she was still shocked when Jesus appeared to her she accepted him wholeheartedly with joy. In that moment, Mary experienced the ‘Joy of the Gospel’. Pope Francis spells the impact of this joy: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” This was Mary’s joy and this is now our joy too as we encounter the risen Lord.
For the Sanhedrin, Judaism’s supreme ruling body, it was a different story. It was impossible for them to consider that Jesus could be the Messiah and that he had really risen from the dead. To believe in him would demand a major change in the whole furniture of their belief-system; nothing less than a total reinterpretation of their Scripture and cherished traditions. In Acts when they summoned Peter and John before them they must have marvelled at how these two uneducated Galileans stood there, insisting that the crucified Jesus was alive again, and now present for everyone as a living force for healing and renewal. Furthermore, they were fearless and thought nothing of making this claim on peril of their lives. Yet for the Sanhedrin to believe them was impossible. Perhaps they had too much to lose.
Believing in the resurrection comes at a cost for us also. We need to let go of old habits, old ways of thinking, old wineskins etc. to allow the full force of the risen Christ to enter and transform our lives. Like the Sanhedrin, this could be too much to ask for. There is always the temptation to cherish what we have rather than risk anything new or strange. One might say that the resurrection has rolled away more stones than the one blocking the tomb; it has also flung wide the doors to the future and gives us a glimpse of what lies beyond. If the resurrection does not make a difference, indeed a radical difference, to our lives, then it’s not the resurrection. The risen Jesus really is the Saviour, who throws light on all our lives and lets us re-evaluate all that we previously thought we knew. We must be willing to allow the love of Jesus to cast its bright rays on our understanding so that we shape our whole future in relation to him. If, at the core of our existence, we believe he has risen, then our lives will be as transformed as were those of his disciples at the beginning. We are therefore invited to a renewed personal relationship with Jesus. We need to connect with him as the living Son of God, seek to know him better and never tire of being fascinated by the immense mystery of his being. Jesus is for real and what we Christians need above all is to see him alive and up close, understand his message, grasp his deepest insights, and feel the heat of his passion for God and humanity.
We began our Easter Vigil last night shrouded in darkness. Then the Paschal Candle was lit. Soon there was a wave of lights spreading out to the edges as all our candles were lit from the one candle. In the same way, Jesus is asking us to spread his light to the four corners of the world. Sr. Joan Chittister spells out very well what this task involves: “Today we are tasked with taking the Light from the tomb and reigniting it ourselves, wherever we are, however we can. It is about seeing where the darkness waits for the Light that is Jesus and taking it there. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said at the Last Supper. This morning, in the shadow of an empty tomb, with the Resurrection behind him, he leaves the remembering, the blessing, the sharing of life for us to do. We do not sing “Alleluia” today simply because Jesus rose from the dead but because, if we take Lent and Easter seriously, we have also risen with him, following his healing, blazing, shattering light to ignite it in his name where we are. Alleluia!”
Sunday, 16 April 2017