Easter Sunday 2018
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9)
God raised (Jesus) on the third day and granted that He be visible to us.
Those words of St. Peter are the culmination of an age-long awareness and expectation in Israel, where the third day was of special significance for Jewish piety. In the book of Genesis we are told that Abraham, in obedience to the voice of God, was taking his only son Isaac to offer him in sacrifice to the Lord on the mount which the Lord would show him. Sorrowing father and innocent, unknowing son, were journeying on, together with some servants, when:
On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." (Genesis 22:4-5)
On the third day Abraham had observed Mount Moriah where he believed his son had to be sacrificed to the Lord; in the event, however, it turned out to be the mount where the son was not only restored unharmed to his father, but restored as the sign of God’s enduring promise of blessing for Abraham and God’s chosen people (Gen. 22:16-17):
Because you have not withheld your only son – blessing I will bless you and multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
Again, in the prophecy of Hosea (6:1-3) there is consolation for sinful, suffering, Israel:
Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.
You can understand, therefore, what Easter comfort and joy the disciples experienced on recalling such texts after having found the empty tomb and seen the Risen Lord! The ultimate bearer of God’s promise, Jesus Whom they had known and loved, had risen on the third day: death could not hold Him! Satan had been defeated, and his power over mankind forever broken and shattered!! That is why Peter could so confidently proclaim to Cornelius and his family whom, under the command of the Holy Spirit, he was about to baptise (Acts 10:39-42):
We are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, Whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He Who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
Let us now turn to our reading from St. Paul and allow him to guide our thoughts:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Paul thus extends this wondrous event of Jesus’ rising from the dead to include us:
You have died (with Christ), and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
How can he say that we died with Christ? Because Christ died as Lord and Saviour of all mankind; though sinless, He died a sinner’s death for our sake and on our behalf. Moreover, when He had died to sin, what chance was there that anyone else could ever overcome the power and the horror of death which is the sting in the tail of sin? When He died on Good Friday all our hopes seemed to die with Him; and on Holy Saturday His disciples experienced only the hopelessness, helplessness, and indeed the emptiness of our native, sinful, condition.
But now, Peter and Paul, together with all the apostles, bear witness that God has raised Jesus from the dead; and, since He is risen, Paul says, you -- you who believe in Him and in the God Who raised Him -- you too are risen with Him since you have the opportunity of sharing in His new, risen, Life: because of your faith in Him you are no longer subject to the frustrations and ultimate horror of earthly death, no longer bound by sin in your native pride and self-solicitude:
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-58)
But Paul also said that we too are seated with Christ at the right hand of God. Now, we firmly believe that Jesus, the Holy One of God, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and we also believe that He continually intercedes for us; but how are we seated with Him at the right hand of the Father?
The answer is that we are not, of course, physically seated with Him now in heaven; nevertheless, heaven is where the vital powers of our spiritual life originate and whither they are leading us. Jesus is physically, in His glorious humanity -- our humanity received without sin from Mary and now glorified as Jesus’ Personal humanity in heaven -- at the right hand of the Father. Moreover, He is also physically with us -- in a sacramental manner -- in the Eucharist, whereby He draws us up, into Himself through the Spirit. Our heavenly food -- the driving force of supernatural life within us -- is the living Body of the One seated at the right hand of the Father in glory; and the more we live by that food, the more we live by His Gifted Spirit, the more He draws us closer and more intimately into Himself. For the sake of all mankind He has taken our humanity into glory: none are barred from sharing His glory by reason of their humanity.
However, we have yet surer basis for hope than the mere fact that our human nature is no longer barred from heaven: for each of us has been called, drawn to Jesus -- personally and individually -- by the Father Himself, as Jesus most explicitly said:
No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
And so, having obediently answered the Father’s call, we have allowed ourselves to be drawn by the Father to Jesus, and we have come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God made man; and, having been baptised into Him as our Lord and Saviour, we have now been endowed with, and justified by, His Gift of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul tells us:
Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:30-31)
Today Jesus is risen and we are potentially, no more than that, we who have faith in Him are already initially glorified in Him: for we who receive the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord in true faith are now assured that we are being actually guided by the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God, towards heaven – as both our destiny and our home -- because our food of life, the Eucharist is, sacramentally, the very same Body which is Jesus’ in heaven; and thus God’s Gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed on us through the Eucharist, is now at work forming us ever more in Jesus’ likeness, so that we -- as living members, in Spirit and Truth, of His Mystical Body on earth -- might ultimately be able to share in the eternal glory which is His, in the Spirit, before His Father in heaven.
For your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.
The Father has received His Beloved Son back and, living in the Father’s heavenly presence, His Son is the bearer of an eternal promise, that where He is, we -- who through faith and baptism are members of His mystical Body -- may be:
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
Such is, indeed, the Lord Jesus’ prayer today in our regard; and what hope of glory and fulfilment it holds out for us in the future, what joy and peace it can bring us now, if we pray in unison with Jesus, and live in a way that makes such a prayer credibly ours! Consequently, we who entertain such hopes surely cannot allow ourselves to live a life of worldly obsession, constantly searching and striving for what the world promises, whilst largely forgetting our heavenly vocation and future. Even Jesus’ prayer that we ‘may be with Him where He is’ can only bear effect in the lives of those who are open to, and in tune with, such a prayer; that is, in the lives of those who seek communication and communion with Him more seriously and lovingly than they search for earthly success, earthly rewards, human sympathy and human companionship. And so, let us never forget St. Paul’s admonition in today’s readings:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
Let us, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, follow such advice in the spirit of today’s wonderful celebration, taking very much to heart the words of the prophet Nehemiah:
Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)