Easter Sunday 2016
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9)
On this Easter morning we are gathered to rejoice in the Lord for the glory and beauty of His triumph over sin and death and for the wondrous salvation He has thereby won for us.
If we look back to our origins we can learn there something of the true significance of what, at first glance, would appear to have been the utter degradation and revolting ugliness of Our Lord’s sufferings and death on Calvary.
God had been wonderfully good to us at our creation: making, forming, us in His own image and likeness, to rule over all that He had made in a way that would give glory to His most holy Name and provide for all our needs. There was, therefore, a close bond of friendship between God and our forebears, and indeed, He even used to walk in the garden of Eden conversing with them:
The Lord God (was) walking in the garden in the cool of the day (and) called out to the man …
There had been only one restriction to Adam’s total freedom in the garden, and that had been established when God had told him:
You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. (cf. Genesis 2:15 seq.)
Notice first of all, People of God, that ‘knowledge of’ means real, ‘physical and full knowledge’ not merely ‘theoretical awareness, philosophical knowledge of’. Therefore the prohibition was made by God because such fruit would actually be harmful to Adam … ‘eat of it and you shall surely die’, not immediately and out of petulant anger, but most surely: for one who turns away or aside from God, by that very fact, cannot share immortality, which is essentially divine, with God.
Adam’s appreciation of God’s goodness was in no way diminished by that warning since there was nothing whatsoever in the Garden which called for Adam to have such knowledge of evil nor was there any good being withheld from him by God, for Adam was urged to cultivate and care for the garden in every respect. Indeed, we learn next how harmonious and lovingly considerate was God’s relationship with Adam, for we are told that God, having taken careful note of Adam’s situation, decided:
It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suited to him; and while (Adam) was asleep (God) took one of his ribs and built the rib into a woman. When He brought her to the man, the man said, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman’ for out of man this one has been taken.” (cf. Gen. 2:18-23)
Thus there was indeed joy and closeness between Adam and God out of which Eve was herself formed.
However, the Serpent managed to poison Eve’s mind by insinuating that God’s command forbidding them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had been made not out of love for them but out of His own oppressive authoritarianism, and thus the nature of the bond between God and the couple He had created became disturbed before being ultimately determined by the issue of obedience: for Adam, weakly opting to go along with Eve in disobedience to God’s warning/command, thereby inevitably lost his participation in God’s immortality and became subject to death and suffering.
That, dear People of God, is why Jesus declared so very frequently that He had come among men not to do His own will but the will of Him Who had sent Him:
My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.
I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me.
I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38)
Jesus made many more such assertions so that we might most surely recognize the root of our human sinfulness and suffering.
Thus, there are two most important points for all disciples of Jesus to appreciate from the very beginning: first of all, there can be no true love for God in one subject to disobedience; disobedience is the root of all our evils and of our alienation from God; we cannot ‘pick and choose’ with obedience and disobedience before God. Secondly, the obedience we owe to God can never rightly be cold or automatic, for that is a betrayal of its original and most authentic nature … for obedience is essentially the supreme expression of truly human and child-like love for, and total confidence in, God our Father.
Now, bearing in mind what we have learnt about our origins, let us look for the glory and the beauty of Our Lord’s obedient Passion, Death, and Resurrection brought about on Jerusalem’s mount of ignominy, Calvary.
We were told in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles that:
They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree.
How wonderfully beautiful!! The beautiful fruit of God’s good tree in Eden – which, with the Serpent’s deception of sensuous Eve and exploitation of Adam’s weakness, had become a stone of stumbling, is now totally transformed by Jesus’ obedient self-sacrifice into the life-enhancing, life-enriching, life-fulfilling, fruit of divine bounty which is offered to us in the Eucharist!! Supremely desirable indeed for the gaining of wisdom; not mere knowledge of good and evil, but wisdom sublime and divine; a transformation symbolized, most beautifully for us disciples of Jesus, no longer by a snake pierced through and lifted up high on a pole as under Moses, but by God’s most beautiful fruit hanging on a tree.
What delight in His Father, what love for us, enabled Jesus to hold His head high throughout those atrocious torments on the Cross? Of that we are told in the Psalter:
Blessed is the man (whose) delight is in the law (the command) of the Lord … He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:2-3)
Later we read (Ps. 110:5, 7.):
The Lord says to my Lord sit at My right hand while I make your enemies your footstool. … At your right hand is the Lord Who crushes kings on the day of His wrath, Who judges nations (yes, Father, for Jesus always does what pleases You) ... Who drinks from the brook by the wayside (signifying Your Gift of the Holy Spirit); and thus, (like the tree planted by streams of water) holds high His head.
They put such a man to death by hanging Him upon a tree
where He was destined to become the fruit of salvation, the fruit of Calvary, not to be sneakily grasped at the serpent’s suggestion, but meant, by the Father Himself, to be taken and received with faith and humble Eucharistic gratitude:
Take this, all of you, and eat it, this is My (Son’s) Body which will be given up for you.
When the serpent deceived Eve he had promised her that:
When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, who know both good and evil.
Our blessed Lord and Saviour, on the other hand, opens our eyes to the full truth of our situation when He offers us the strength of His grace together with a call to repent, warning us that only those who humbly believe in Him and in His Father’s merciful goodness will be able to receive with profit the full fruit of His sacrifice and the wisdom of His Most Holy Spirit.
People of God, today we should rejoice! Rejoice in God’s infinitely beautiful wisdom that extends throughout all ages and shapes all our destinies; rejoice in His omnipotent and universal might, that manifests itself in a Son willing to suffer the loss of all in order to conquer sin and to save His Father’s chosen ones; rejoice in the goodness of Him Who knows no evil and suffers no evil, and Who -- in His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ and by His Most Holy Spirit -- is become our Light and Life, our Joy and Peace, uniquely able to transform all evils to His greater glory and our eternal salvation.