Our celebration of Easter marks the
culmination of our observance of Lent and the very apogee of the entire liturgical year. The Resurrection of the Lord is the very bedrock of our faith, without which everything else we say, do, or believe is essentially meaningless. As St. Augustine (d. 430) once put it, “We are Easter people, and alleluia is our song!”
When we ponder the mystery of the Resurrection, it is utterly amazing that there are no actual eyewitness accounts of that event. Of course, as it is told in Matthew 28, as the women came to the tomb early on the first day of the week, a great earthquake occurred, for an angel of the Lord had descended from heaven, approached, and rolled back the stone, sitting upon it. We are told that his appearance was like lightning and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards sent to watch over the tomb lest the disciples steal the body of Jesus presumably fainted out of sheer fear. Then the angelic figure announced the fact of the Resurrection. In the other gospels, we are told that the women came to the tomb that Sunday morning after the death of Jesus only to find the tomb opened, the stone rolled away from the entrance, and the body of Jesus nowhere to be found. No one, we are told, actually saw the Risen Lord walk out of the tomb.
What are we to make of this? It seems clear that the accounts of the empty tomb are no proof of the fact of the Resurrection. After all, the Jewish authorities told the guards, who feared for their lives since it would be reported to Pontius Pilate that they were derelict in their duty, that they would smooth things over with the governor and keep them out of trouble. The story that the Jewish authorities circulated was that the disciples stole the body of Jesus while the guards were asleep. The fact of the tomb found empty on Sunday morning only points to the reality of the Resurrection. It does not prove it decisively.
What seems to serve as proof of the Resurrection is the fact that Jesus appeared to his disciples alive, not only that first Easter morning, but a number of times over a period of forty days. Of course, as we would be, they were utterly dazzled and amazed. At first, they were frightened, thinking that they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus allayed their fears by having them touch him and taking some fish and eating it right before their eyes. Ghosts do not eat, nor are they tangible, having flesh and bones as we do.
The incontrovertible proof of the Lord’s Resurrection ultimately comes in the utter transformation of the disciples. Remember that we are told that they hid in the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus, hiding for fear of the Jewish authorities, for fear of their very lives. Yet, when Jesus appears to them alive, and ultimately when the Spirit of God descended upon them, empowering them on Pentecost, they went forth and proclaimed the Risen Jesus as Lord and Savior, even to the point of laying down their lives for him. As Jesus told them, they were to be his witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but also in Samaria and Galilee, and even to the ends of the earth.
We, too, twenty-plus centuries later, are also called to be witnesses to the Risen Christ. We know he is alive. We sense his presence among us. We stake our very lives, our eternal destiny on him and him alone, for without Jesus our lives have no meaning and there is no future, no eternity awaiting us. Without Jesus, our lives have no purpose and all that awaits us is everlasting death.
As we launch into the Easter Season, with our Lenten observance completed, what we need to ask ourselves is a simple question: how can we be effective witnesses to the Living Christ, the Jesus who is alive and among us, who is Lord of heaven and earth, and who is the One who gives meaning and purpose not just to our own lives but the lives of everyone?
On behalf of the priests, the deacons and the staff of Precious Blood Parish, I extend to all of you our warmest greetings for Easter. May the Risen Lord bless you and your loved ones with his very presence and may his Resurrection renew in all of us a lively hope and a deepened love for one another. Happy Easter to you all!