“The Lord is Risen! Alleluia, alleluia! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia, alleluia!”
George Weigel in his article “The Easter Effect and How it Changed the World” (Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2018) considers the question of how did Christianity spread so quickly in the Roman Empire, what was it that propelled its growth? He begins by briefly referencing a scholar who approaches the question, as many of his peers do, from a socio-cultural perspective. Weigel summarizes the argument:
Christianity modeled a nobler way of life than what was on offer elsewhere in the rather brutal society of the day. In Christianity, women were respected as they weren’t in classical culture and played a critical role in bringing men to the faith and attracting converts. In an age of plagues, the readiness of Christians to care for all the sick, not just their own, was a factor, as was the impressive witness to faith of countless martyrs. Christianity also grew from within because Christians had larger families, a byproduct of their faith’s prohibition of contraception, abortion and infanticide.
Weigel then states that this may be true but it does not really answer the question. He argues for the “Easter Effect:”
There is no accounting for the rise of Christianity without weighing the revolutionary effect on those nobodies of what they called “the Resurrection”: their encounter with the one whom they embraced as the Risen Lord, whom they first knew as the itinerant Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, and who died an agonizing and shameful death on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. As N.T. Wright, one of the Anglosphere’s pre-eminent biblical scholars, makes clear, that first generation answered the question of why they were Christians with a straightforward answer: because Jesus was raised from the dead.
All around the globe today Christians gather to celebrate Easter. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The gospel account comes from The Gospel According to John. We heard several important passages from the gospel during the Lenten season. We regularly encountered Jesus calling for belief. Belief that He was sent by the Father. Belief that the Father and He are one. Belief that He is the “way, the truth and the life.”
Today we hear of the first person to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. The gospel account recalls Mary Magdalen’s visit to the tomb on the “first day of the week.” She finds it empty and rushes back to tell Peter and the beloved disciple. They run back to the tomb. The beloved disciple outruns Peter but waits until he arrives before going in. When he goes into the tomb, the empty tomb, “He saw and believed.”
Jesus will appear to the disciples many times yet here in this first visit we hear of the faith inspired by the “empty tomb.” All that had happened before, Jesus’ teachings, His “signs” or miracles, His preaching, His gathering, His guiding, His caring, His healing, His friendship, His suffering, His passion, and His death all come together in that moment. Jesus is the Lord of Life and He is risen from the dead.
The “Easter Effect” that George Weigel mentions is recalled vividly in the Acts of the Apostles. The passage today recalls that early proclamation by Peter, the leader of the apostles. Peter proclaims with great joy and conviction. He tells the crowd that He and the others have been “sent” by the Risen Lord to proclaim and invite. They proclaim all that has happened to Jesus but most importantly His passion, death and resurrection. They invite all who hear to believe, the same invitation Jesus had offered to them. Belief in Him brings life as Peter says: “To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Jesus is alive. As we celebrate His victory over sin and death, we celebrate the life we now share in Him. Many people here and around the world were baptized last night at the Easter Vigil. They came to faith and sought the sacraments of initiation. We in a few moments will renew our baptismal promises. We recall today that all that Jesus accomplished in His passion, death and resurrection has been passed on to us through these sacraments. In them, we are mysteriously or sacramentally united with Christ Jesus in His death so that we will have a promised share in His resurrection, a share in eternal life.
The great gift of life itself has been won for us by Christ Jesus. His resurrection from the dead proclaims His victory, His promise and His presence. The gift we have been given is one to be shared.
The mission continues today and so we proclaim: “The Lord is Risen! Alleluia, alleluia! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia, alleluia!”
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.
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