Easter Day

11 April 2019

Isaiah 65.17-end; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; Acts 10.34-43; Luke 24.1-12

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IN THE light of Easter, Romano Guardini writes, “we must revise our whole conception of what redemption is.” We have a “deeply rooted” tendency to think that redemption is a matter of the spiritual alone; but the empty tomb reveals that “redemption is more than an intellectual process, an interior disposition or emotion; we must learn all over again to grasp its divine concrete reality” (The Lord).

The resurrection offers a foretaste of the transfiguration of all things — the transformation foretold in Isaiah’s vision of “new heavens and a new earth”, where weeping, oppression, and injustice are no more. While humanity could not have foreseen the manner of its deliverance, those who believed in a loving Creator always had reason to wait in hope for a work of restoration and renewal.

As Isaiah prophesies in his Servant songs, it is precisely through suffering and humiliation that this work of restoration is completed. What is wholly unexpected and unanticipated is that the suffering Servant will be the very Word of God made flesh. As Guardini writes, “Christianity alone has dared to draw the body into the inmost sphere of divine proximity.”

Luke’s narrative emphasises the continuity between the Passion and the resurrection as a single act of redemptive love (Judith Lieu, Epworth Commentaries: The Gospel of Luke). The very women who are found at the foot of the cross — who had the courage to abide in the place of apparent defeat and powerlessness, when others ran away — are now the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.

Their example challenges each of us to learn how to abide with those who suffer, even when it seems impossible to make sense of their pain. The empty tomb reveals that suffering and death will not have the final say. Christ both suffers with us, and has won the ultimate victory over suffering and death.

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St Cyril of Alexandria explains how the triumph of Jesus extends to all who are baptised into his new life: “The Word of God ever lives and by his own nature is life. Yet, when he humbled and emptied himself, submitting to be made like us, he tasted death. But this proved to be the death of death, for he rose from the dead to be the way by which not so much he himself but rather we could return to incorruption.”

The lectionary stipulates that a passage from the Acts of the Apostles must be read each Sunday in Eastertide, as this book shows what it means for the Church to manifest Christ’s risen life. As Beverly Roberts Gaventa observes, the book might more accurately be called the Acts of God through his Church (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Acts).

As the life of the Primitive Church demonstrates, the resurrection casts its light on every aspect of existence. Just as Jesus’s body is raised and transformed, so his Church is called to be a foretaste of the transfiguration of the whole creation. His gospel of transformation and peace is found not in some purely private spiritual experience, but in the day-to-day life of the Church, as the Spirit moves in her.

The Church is his mystical body: we are incorporated into Jesus’s triumph by being baptised into his death and resurrection, and by being fed with his crucified and risen body in the eucharist. As Guardini observes, in these sacraments Christians receive “not only the spirit of Christ, but his resurrected flesh and blood”. This is why, from the earliest times, the Easter liturgy included the baptism of catechumens and their first reception of holy communion. The materiality of these sacraments leads on to the transfiguration of our material relationships (cf. Acts 2.42-45).

The materiality of Jesus’s risen body is one sign of the “concrete reality” of redemption. But another aspect of that concrete reality is the fact that these first disciples — and their followers in every age — know their risen Lord as a companion and friend. As Pope Francis declares, “Christ is alive! We need to keep reminding ourselves of this, because we can risk seeing Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, as a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago. . . Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

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