Year B Easter
There’s a painting by Eugene Bernand, painted in 1898, that shows the disciples Peter and John running to the empty grave on Easter morning. Bernand was a master of facial expression and clear as day in the eyes, the set of the jaw, and the wrinkled brow of these two men is fear. Mingled with that fear is hope, but it’s mostly fear. This is because they had no idea what was going on.
From two-thousand years away, we in our best Easter dresses and fanciest ties may lose this detail, but the disciples had no conception of the Resurrection. They’d never even heard the word before. To them, the empty grave sparked a vague memory of some earlier sayings of their Lord about dying and rising again, so there is some hope there, but those earlier teachings are still dark in their minds.
The culture in which they lived was somewhat doubtful about life after death. The Sadducees, the main priestly culture in Jerusalem, very much did not believe in Heaven. The Pharisees did, but didn’t teach anything like a bodily resurrection. The Greeks believed the soul to be eternal, but also didn’t have a concept as clearly defined as Heaven. Some of the eastern philosophers who may have had contact with the disciples at some point or another may have believed in re-incarnation, the idea that we are recycled into a new body on earth. Today, we are still stuck with many of these misconceptions, but the Resurrection of Our Lord is none of these. It is entirely new. This is why Bishop Robert Barron says, “On practically every page of the New Testament, we find a grab-you-by-the-lapels quality, for the early Christians were not trading in bland spiritual abstractions or moral bromides. They were trying to tell the whole world that something so new and astounding had happened that nothing would ever again be the same.”
We have an advantage the disciples did not on that first Easter morning. We know where Jesus went. We know that he descended to hell and harrowed it, that he cracked open the gates holding in the dead and carried them home. We know that he asserted his power over the bondage of death and burst forth from the grave, that the boulder holding his body in the tomb was rolled away, that the body was not only resuscitated but resurrected, meaning that with a flash of light and a trembling in the marrow of the universe he was made new, still very much himself and yet fitted to live not on earth but in heaven. This is the great event that Dante, as he walks the paths of Hell, sees has shaken the underworld to its very foundations.
What does it mean? We can talk about the Resurrection all day, but how does it affect you and me? The disciples figured it out. We can too. It means that Our Lord returns in triumph and his re-entry into life is like the ripple in a pond when you drop a stone in it. It pierces the veil between two realities and its effects spread to the entire creation. If human sin made a wreck of creation – and which of has not felt that? Which of us has not known sadness, or grieved the loss of a loved one, or felt the sting of a friendship rupturing, or found ourselves lonely, or self-conscious, doubtful, disappointed, or wishing we were somewhere and someone else? And trust me this is a universal human problem, after all as John Cheever says, the main emotion of the adult…American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment – If human sin has wrecked us, and made a desert of a garden, God is not content to leave us in our misery. Easter is the miracle of God redeeming all of it, body and soul.
God sees this world, the sky, the trees, the lakes and rivers, and he loves it. The animals, the music, the art, and he loves it. He sees you, your family, all your glorious foibles, and he loves you. He not only dies for you, but he lives for you. Because the Christian life is, first of all, about life. It is being set free to discover how happy you can become. It is purpose. It is meaning. This is why J.R.R. Tolkien says, “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”
We need not fear. Whatever new life God is calling you to, even if as you hear his voice you are frozen in fear in gaping into the darkness of an empty tomb, uncomprehending and confused, Jesus is now in your heart, and out there, calling you to follow onwards to a heroic adventure.