Happy Easter, everyone! What might that mean to say that to our fellow Christians?
All of our readings for this Easter Vigil speak of newness of life, both for Jesus and as Paul proclaims, for us too: “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” [Roman 6:4]. The words, “Christ was raised,” is the early Christians’ way of proclaiming that God did not abandon the crucified Jesus; in other words, God “was not a passive observer of Jesus’ execution. [Rather God] stepped in to rescue Jesus from the power of death.” Early Christians used two metaphors to speak of this “impressive and extravagant” act of God: “awakenings” and “raisings.” For them God entered sheol, the place of the dead, “where everything is darkness, silence and solitude,” where the dead are “sleeping the sleep of death,” and “God has ‘awakened’ the crucified Jesus from among them, has stood him on his feet and ‘raised’ him to life.”
Another way the early Christians spoke of Jesus being raised is in the language of exaltation. “To be ‘exalted’ is to rise, to be pulled away from the power of death.” The responsorial psalm for this evening’s liturgy attests to that exaltation in the words, “The right hand of the Lord has struck with power; the right hand of the Lord is exalted. I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord” [Psalm 118:15b-17].
Paul is clear in his message to the Romans, “If then we have died with Christ we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life he lives for God.” [Romans 6:8-10]. Christ is not like Lazarus, who although he was raised to his mortal life, would die again eventually. Rather than returning to his early life, Christ lives forever in God’s very life. So, too, we are to share in the very life of God and will experience being raised to new life after we die. However, we begin that newness of life by living as Christ lived, by how we care for the body of Christ around us, that is, by being committed “to God’s reign, [Christ’s] acts of kindness to the little ones, … his struggles and conflicts, his obedience unto death.” Whenever we die to ourselves and live for others as Christ did, we are living beyond the power of death, as a “‘glorious body’ that expresses and gives fullness to the real life he lived in this world.”
Many of us can think of people, who live full out, giving of themselves in witnessing to a love and life beyond themselves. We have seen several examples in the news recently. The French policeman, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrane, offered his life in exchange for a person taken hostage by the gunman in a grocery store in Carcassone, France. Firefighter Michael Davidson of the NYFD lost his life while fighting the blaze at a movie set in Harlem. There are all the volunteers assisting the people of Puerto Rico, who have been without electricity and basics of life for several months since the hurricane. We may know of someone, who quietly sees that her neighbor’s children have enough food and clothing. All of these folks are bringing newness of life to others, some at the cost of their own lives. Just as the early Christians were convinced that “God is making the risen Jesus present in their hearts,” so, too, are these present-day Christians manifesting Christ to those around them.
Turning to our Gospel, Mark tells the story of what happened to the women at the tomb, who “saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed” [Mark 16:5-6a]. He speaks to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’” [Mark 16:6b-7]. This language of seeing is a highly theological way of talking about appearances, like God did to Abraham, Jacob and many others in the First Testament. “In reality God does not appear in … scenes in a visible way, but comes out of [God’s] unfathomable mystery to establish real communication with human beings,” such that humans “experience [the divine] presence.” It is by God’s grace that the disciples will “see” Jesus. In going to Galilee, Jesus will initiate the encounter with them; he will come to them,”full of life, pulling them out of their confusion and incredulity…He…becomes present in their lives, beyond all their expectation.”
In this encounter of the women with the messenger, they “hear…the voice of an angel, which naturally calls for faith….The specific words attributed to the angel are a simple, almost literal repetition of the preaching of the first disciples…[as] another way of proclaiming God’s victory over death, a graphic way of saying that God has opened the gates of sheol so that the crucified Jesus could escape from the power of death…Everything leads to the conclusion that [the first Christians’] faith in the risen Christ was inspired…by the ‘encounter’’ with him, full of life after his death.” So, the women, as also the male disciples, whose experience of an empty tomb we will hear in the Easter stories for the next few Sundays, find out that Jesus is not in an empty tomb, because he does not belong to the world of the dead. Rather he is alive, enlivening the disciples then and disciples now; in the words of the theologian José Pagola, they and we are to
“go back to Galilee” and follow his steps: curing those who suffer, accepting those who are excluded, forgiving sinners, defending women and blessing children. We must offer meals open to everyone, and go into people’s houses proclaiming peace; we must tell parables about the goodness of God, and denounce all religion that works against people’s happiness; we must go on proclaiming the nearness of God’s reign. A clear, more friendly, abundant and just life is possible with Jesus. There is hope for everyone: “Go back to Galilee” [go back to the Prairie]. He is going ahead of you; there you will see him.
All our readings this holy night invite us to experience newness of life, by trusting that Jesus is with us, within us, and all around us. All we have to do is see him with eyes of faith as the God living in his glorified body, as we declare the works of God in our midst. So, let us go and be Easter people!