An Easter Reflection
On Easter day and throughout the Easter season we celebrate the most important of Christian feasts. We celebrate the day on which God through the power of the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. This is the founding event of the Christian faith. Without this resurrection, there would be no Christian faith, no kerygma, no Church. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: 17, if Christ is not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain and we are still in our sins. If Christ is not raised, the show is all over!
The same Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that the death of Jesus on a cross was foolishness to the Gentiles and a scandal to the Jews. For the Gentiles death on a cross was a criminal’s death. And for the Jews, death on a cross was a God-forsaken death. It meant to be abandoned by God, cursed by God. “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree,” Paul says (Gal. 3:13).
And so those first disciples abandoned Jesus. They are not at the foot of the cross. Given his God-forsaken death, they returned north to their fishing nets. They had backed a loser. The Cross showed that Jesus was not God’s prophet, not God’s chosen one. Undoubtedly the disciples were quite chagrin and disappointed. As the Emmaus story shows, they had great hopes, hopes that Jesus would be the savior of Israel. But the cross ended all of that.
And then came the Easter experience, the experience that God had raised Jesus from the dead. And that resurrection, and the experience of that resurrection changed everything. For most Jews of Jesus’ day, the resurrection from the dead was the sure sign that God’s final and definitive creative-saving power was now present and active in creation and human history. The resurrection was the sure sign that God’s creative-saving power was now bringing creation and human history to its fulfillment, God himself. The resurrection was the sure sign that God’s eschatological reign or rule is now victoriously present.
And so now because of God’s raising Jesus from the dead, those first disciples, whose dreams and hopes had been shattered by the cross, could and did celebrate God’s ultimate victory on creation’s and humanity’s behalf. In light of this resurrection, in which the reign of God occurred fully in Jesus, they could and did come to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the Lord, Savior, Son, the risen one in whom and through whom God’s decisive victory on our behalf and on behalf of all creation was realized. And so sad and broken hearts gave way to joyful, hopeful hearts. Gloom and despair were turned to joy and hope. The apostolic kerygma was born, the heart of which is that God has raised Jesus from the dead. The Church through the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ arose to continue to make present to creation and history the reigning, saving power of God now fully manifested and present in the risen Christ.
This is the Gospel – the good spell – the good news which is proclaimed to us on Easter day and throughout the Easter season, the good news that our God is a God who in the end does not disappoint, a God who in the end is not absent, a God who in the end does not abandon his creation and his people. This is the Gospel, the good spell that in the end our God pronounces the definitive and decisive no to all injustice and sin, to all that impoverishes and enslaves us, to all that belittles and dehumanizes us, that in the end our God is victorious over all the negative and destructive forces and powers which threaten us and ultimately envelop us in death itself. Indeed, as the responsorial verse sung on Easter Sunday proclaims: “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”
This is the kind of good news which a world bombarded by bad news needs to hear. Life is filled with disappointments and frustrations of all types. Everything seems to fall short, which is the biblical meaning of sin: to be short of the mark. We live in a world where everything is short of the mark. And the grand finale which insures that everything falls short of the mark, which insures that all our hopes and dreams are dashed is the last enemy, the inescapable enemy, death itself. Not a hopeful picture.
But then comes “the third day,” the day of salvation, the day on which God had and has good news for us, the good news that He is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and in doing so has overcome the power of “sin and death.” He has overcome all that which makes life again and again fall short of the mark. He has overcome all that which disappoints our hopes and dashes our dreams. He has good news for us, the good news, the good spell, the Gospel, that “death is swallowed up in victory,” the good news that “every tear shall be wiped away.” Indeed this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.
Fr. Donald Buggert, O.Carm
Professor Emeritus – Washington Theological Union