“And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.”
The Resurrection of Jesus still evokes in us today that great sense of wonder, mystery and excitement that we sense from our reading of the event in the Sacred Scriptures. His death was witnessed by a great many people. There was no doubt. Jesus’ death was a great sadness but was accepted with a sense of inevitability. Some of His closest friends could not even bring themselves to be close to Him in those last moments and, we may presume, witnessed the event from a distance. We know that they gathered together afterwards in support and, perhaps, to try to comfort each other.
The Scriptures give no indication that any human being witnessed the moment of Jesus’ resurrection. We read of earthquakes, of the appearance of angels, of the stone covering the entrance to the tomb moving, of folded burial cloths, and of an empty tomb. We read of Jesus appearing and talking to the women who had come to finish the burial ritual, of Jesus appearing and speaking also to the Apostles and disciples in different places, and of physical contact with the Risen Christ. But the Gospels do not record anyone actually witnessing the moment of resurrection. Unlike the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus which is recorded in some detail, we hear about the resurrection after it has happened.
During the preceding season of Lent we were encouraged to look beyond the immediately obvious about ourselves and to search more deeply into our spiritual life so as to become more aware of the abiding presence of Jesus. This time of renewal inspires us and encourages us to prepare for a new revelation that is not confined to our human experience but prepares us to embrace our place in the mystery of eternal life. Twice just recently I was asked to explain the symbolism of two items of religious art. One was a crucifix that had affixed just below the feet of the Crucified Christ a skull and crossed bones. The other is an icon which depicts the Crucifixion above a black hole in which can be seen a white skull. The answer I gave I remembered from my youth when I asked a similar question: the death and resurrection of Christ overcomes death as we know it from our human perspective. Death is not the end but is a transition. This transition, I believe, has two aspects – physical and spiritual. In the physical dimension we have been promised an eternal life and we acknowledge that truth every time we say the Creed – ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.’ In the spiritual dimension we experience the tremendous power of forgiveness and reconciliation even now. Our sins are forgiven. As humans we are ‘in touch’ with both aspects simultaneously through Jesus.
Our vocation as members of the Australian Defence Force family, in the widest possible sense, brings us into more than a fair share of contact with the more negative dimensions of our human condition. We are called upon to be involved in situations of great turmoil, confusion, distress, disunity and social upheaval. When we are experiencing grief and separation, through our faith – our personal and intimate union with Jesus – we are encouraged to see beyond the immediate circumstances for that consolation that has its source in Him. This is true for both our physical and our spiritual life. Jesus is the source of the understanding of the union between human and divine life.
It is little wonder then that we read in the Scriptures how the members of the infant Church became great witnesses to the Hope that Jesus brings. Their own feelings of despondency, fear, and despair were dispelled by the knowledge of the Resurrection. We can only imagine their mixed feelings as they hastened to Galilee to meet up with the Lord! They had to leave the place where they were – they had to move on from their current environment – so that they could experience again that closeness with Jesus. But notice also that the relationship with Jesus had changed because everything had changed. The crucifixion is still a real part of their history but now it too was to have a new understanding for them in the light of the resurrection.
Our Easter is a celebration of newness. Our understanding has taken on a new vision; our worth and value has increased infinitely; our sense of purpose and contribution has expanded far beyond our obvious limits. In accepting this new life we are truly able to become disciples of hope and ministers of security and stability for each other and for others. It is right for us to let ourselves feel something of the great excitement that we inherit from those whose lives were overturned by the news and experience of Jesus resurrection!
Chief among those who are enlivened by the Good News of our new life is Mary, Mother of the Church and Help of Christians. With her prayer and example we gain greater confidence to approach her Son and share in that new purpose and new life He shares with us through His death and resurrection and through our union with Him in the celebration of His Eucharist.
He is truly Risen for us!