Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord, April 4)

“The Lord is risen, Alleluia! Alleluia! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Death is something none of us have experienced. Surely, we know of death, through people we know who have died. We see the effects of death. Death of a loved one touches us deeply. Sometimes we might feel like part of ourselves has died when a loved one, especially a spouse, child or parent dies, but it is not death. We still live. Death destroys life. It may come slowly or suddenly, it may be tranquil or painful, it may be early or late in life. Death does not discriminate.

These days we hear of death in terms of numbers. Almost daily we hear of the death toll both in our county, state, country and world. While death is something none of us have experienced, it is very real to us.

We have just celebrated Jesus’ passion and death, a horrible death coupled with pain and intense suffering. The brutality of the world has been unleashed on the gentle man from Nazareth. The forces of evil have battered his body and soul. Hate, envy, jealousy, pride, ridicule, betrayal, denial, greed, rejection, ignorance, arrogance and slander have all played their part.

In the view of the world, they seem to have triumphed as his lifeless body is removed from the cross and placed in an empty tomb. Yet what they perceive as a victory is about to be snatched from their hands.

The horror of the cross and death of Jesus was felt by many: Mary, his mother, as she stood by him to the end. She who gave of her body that he might have one stands by as his body is broken on the cross. The women who accompanied him as friends and disciples. John, the one who remained faithful. Peter, the one who betrayed. The Eleven, the ones who abandoned. The unnamed but numerous disciples, who seem to have disappeared. The guards who accomplished the task. Pilate who ordered the killing. The chief priests who plotted and planned. The crowd who jeered and mocked. All were affected.

Now, three days later, the victory of death is shattered by resurrection. Jesus rises from the dead. Not a spirit or ghost but Jesus himself is risen. His body cannot be found in that empty tomb because it is not there, it has been raised. The gospel account for today’s liturgy recalls the finding of the empty tomb by Mary, Peter and John. The burial cloths are neatly wrapped up and arranged – these are no longer needed. Of the three it is John, the beloved disciple, who realizes what has happened – “he saw and believed.”

We will be hearing the other gospel accounts of the resurrection during the next several weeks. We will hear of Jesus gathering with the apostles to dissipate their fear. We will hear of him eating and drinking with his friends. We will hear his gift of “peace.” We will hear his offer to Thomas. We will hear him teach and preach. And we will see him break the bread.

Jesus’ victory over death transforms the believers’ understanding of death. It robs death of power and brings hope to all who believe. Through the cross, Jesus has conquered sin and death. The resurrection manifests, makes clear and visible, his victory. He is alive. His perfect sacrifice on the cross overturns the power of death. St. Paul will later acclaim: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Today we gather to celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death. We are the beneficiaries of his sacrifice, we are the heirs to his life. As part of the Easter liturgy, we renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with holy water. The ritual reminds us that through baptism we were united with Christ Jesus in his death so that we might likewise share in his resurrection. The renewal of our promises is a recommitment to follow him and to place our faith in him as we journey through life. It is this faith that mirrors John’s response to the empty tomb – “he saw and believed.”

The past year has been very challenging for all humanity. The pandemic has hit all peoples and places. Everyone has been affected. The time has been difficult. All of us have been challenged to cope with the effects. Though vaccinations are happening, the virus still lingers. Additional shut-downs are happening in many European countries.

Many wonder to themselves and sometimes share aloud: “when will this end?” Like many other trying times in life, this is an unanswerable question. We are reminded through our celebration of the Triduum that we have another way of looking at life, that of the Kingdom.

The Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, which we have been celebrating this week in a concentrated effort, is something that we live each and every day of our lives.

Sometimes we might feel like we are on trial before Pilate. Sometimes we might feel like we are with Peter in the courtyard, Jesus looking on. Sometimes we might feel like we are being scourged. Sometimes we might feel the weight of the cross. Sometimes we might feel that we are the center of unwanted attention. Sometimes we might feel like we are being jeered. Sometimes we might feel like we are on the cross. Sometimes we might feel like we are in the tomb, waiting.

The point is that Jesus not only knows where we are in life and is with us through all these experiences; but that he leads us through these to life. Jesus has risen from the dead. He has unlocked the gates of life and has welcomed us in.

And so we join with the faithful throughout the world in acclaiming: “The Lord is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.