The Paschal mystery is the portal to heaven. As St. Paul tells us, if we suffer and die with him we shall be joined with him and live forever. Everything in Jesus’ ministry led to the Passion of the Cross in Jerusalem. In the liturgies of Holy Week, we relive those last few days of Jesus. On Palm Sunday Jesus is met with shouts of praise and exultation only to be drowned out but a few days later by the cries of “crucify him.”
On Holy Thursday we shared with Jesus and his disciples a last supper in the upper room where his betrayer was exposed. We also shared bread and wine which will become his body and blood given for us before following him to the garden where he prayed to let the cup pass, but resigned himself to the will of the Father.
Then on Good Friday, crowned with thorns, he is made to carry his cross and is crucified. The disciples who were so close to him in life were nowhere to be found. They abandoned the one they called rabbi and friend. This probably just magnified the pain he experienced.
It’s difficult to imagine the experience of the disciples of Jesus on the day of his resurrection. They viewed his horrific suffering and crucifixion and watched him taken down from the cross. They saw the stone rolled in front of the tomb. All seemed lost.
As Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews, was buried, so, too, were their hopes and dreams. They now must deal with their despair. They needed to make alternate life plans.
Easter Sunday morning they are told by women friendly to Jesus and their cause that the tomb they visited to anoint the dead body of Jesus was empty, the stone rolled back. What could this mean? The body could have been stolen. The women could be hysterical. This could be a trick to further discredit any would-be followers of Jesus. We can envision them, peering into the tomb, filled with questions. The world, almost 2,000 years later, attempts to make sense of the resurrection event.
The Easter season is a time of rebirth. It is the beginning of spring. Nature comes to life after the long winter. God the Father takes this moment to raise his Son. Yet much of our society will celebrate Easter not as an event depicting the God’s salvation through his Son but rather a happy celebration filled with Easter egg hunts, baskets of candy and the sense of springtime. The world has a difficult time accepting mystery. It’s easier dealing with the Easter Bunny.
The tomb is a symbol of how entrapped we are in the materiality of the world. Some are caught by their possessions, some by addictions, others by sin and still others by skepticism. However, there is really only one way out of the tomb and that is through the eyes of faith.
As the Gospel states, the Apostle saw and “believed.” This statement of faith changes everything. Look at the remarkable change in the apostles who were frightened even to be associated with Jesus. They will offer their lives in testimony to the resurrected Jesus. It is recorded that every apostle except St. John (who died of natural causes) was martyred in painful and excruciating ways. There may be an individual who might die for a lie, but an entire group to give their lives individually for Christ Jesus certainly is a statement of the truth of his resurrection.
Often we assume that martyrs were a part of Christian history, something that happened in the past, but every year more than 150,000 Christians give their lives for the faith. They are martyred because they refuse to renounce the living Jesus and the faith which proclaims Jesus Christ as our Savior who has redeemed the world. There is a confidence that Christians possess. We no longer live in fear of death but we understand there is a life waiting for all of us who have placed our trust in the Lord.
St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, referring to the Prophet Hosea, states: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-56).
Easter is the great surprise. Our hopes and dreams are fulfilled beyond our wildest imaginations, because he lives so we also live. Now it is our obligation to proclaim the living Lord to the world. As Christians we are an Easter people who, through Christ,, proclaim life in the face of death.