Words on the Word

Easter Day

Acts 10:34, 37-43: We are those witnesses.
Colossians 3:1-4: You have been brought back to true life in Christ.
John 20:1-9: Till this moment they had failed to understand.

‘Christ is risen!’ In the Oriental churches, these are the words with which one Christian greets another during the fifty days of Eastertide. The other replies, ‘He is risen indeed!’ In the light of Christ’s Pasch, conventional exchanges are plainly inadequate. We have something essential to impart. After two thousand years the rising of Christ remains urgent news. We know it, yet we need to be retold. The sheer immensity of it takes time to seep in. So conditioned are we by biological death that the fact of resurrection continues to give us a jolt. Can it be true? Yes, it can. We can testify. That is what makes us Christians. To be a Christian is not just to try to live uprightly. It is not just to have certain well-founded ideas about God and the world. It is not just to venerate tradition. It is to know that Christ is risen. It is to be intimately certain that life isn’t just what it seems, that it is infinitely more; and then, to live and die accordingly.

We see what this amounts to in the passage from the Gospel of John just read to us. John, remember, was an intimate of Jesus. When a handful of apostles were given privileged access to the Master, he was there. He witnessed the raising of Jairus’s daughter. He was there on Mount Tabor, seeing Jesus transfigured in light. He was one of the three asked to accompany Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He alone of the disciples was present at the foot of the cross. Having experienced all this and worked miracles himself (he was, after all, a ‘son of thunder’), he would surely, we might think, have understood who Jesus was, what he amounted to? He assures us today he had not. ‘Till this moment’, he says of Peter and himself, ‘they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’ He had to enter the tomb, to ascertain for himself that the impossible had happened. Then ‘he saw and believed’. It is possible, then, to walk with Jesus, to observe him, converse with him, eat and drink with him, yet fail to understand, to miss the one essential point: that this wise teacher, gentle healer, stern corrector, faithful friend is the Slayer of death; that he not only promises life but is resurrection. It is Christ’s rising from the dead that emboldens the Church to call him God and to hand down: He is alive, he is risen indeed!

But what about us who cannot see? Can we believe? Or are we mere peddlers of hearsay, piously pretending to know things that, really, can’t be known? My question is rhetorical. Of course we can believe, know, and bear witness with authority. The Gospel of John, of the disciple who saw, is precisely the one that proclaims them blessed who do not see yet believe. In our liturgy today, John is flanked by one such. Paul didn’t see. By the time he had ceased to persecute the Church, Christ’s crucifixion was a past event. He had no opportunity to see the empty tomb, to handle the discarded linen cloths. But he nonetheless testified to Christ’s resurrection. For him, life was Christ. He died in proclamation that Christ lives. We may object that Paul was special. Christ spoke to him and let him see his glory near Damascus. He let him hear ineffable words. Should this dishearten us, let us hear what Paul writes to the Colossians, that is, to believers like us of whom no unusual graces are recorded: ‘You have been brought back to true life with Christ. Look, then, for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is.’ He speaks to them as equals: they know as he knows. How? Their ‘life now is hidden with Christ in God.’

To be a Christian is not to depend on accidents of time and place. It is to live ‘with Christ’. What does that mean? To have discovered in our heart a longing so intense that nothing in this world can assuage it; to have been moved to give thanks by some ordinary experience of extraordinary dept—be it through love or joy or grief; to have been powerfully moved by compassion; to search for truth and then to find in Scripture sayings that electrify. It means, for these reasons (and more), to find that Jesus is the pole to which our lives are drawn as irresistibly as a compass needle is drawn northward. This life springing up from within finds sustenance and direction in the Church. The grace of the sacraments transforms our lives in small but concrete ways. We find that our identity is rooted in the Church’s colourful and close communion. And then we ascertain: This is no wishful thinking! It’s for real! What nurtures me, what gives me joy, what fills me with such peace is not an idea, not something but Someone, Someone alive who, astonishingly, cares for me. It is Christ. It is true, then: He is risen indeed! The experience I have of him now corresponds to what I read of in the Bible. I, like Peter, John and Paul, am a witness! Christ is alive, so I shall live! Death is dead. Brothers and sisters, this is our Easter faith. Let us witness to it boldly. Abandoned to itself, ours is a hopeless world, a world caught up in spirals of destruction. That’s why the Lord redeemed it. We are his instruments, his emissaries, the bearers of his life, his joy. May we be ever faithful to his call.

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