Do we believe that Jesus literally came back from the dead? What does “Resurrection” mean? In the face of the suffering of the world that still goes on, does Easter actually matter today?
I have found inspiration in thinking about these critical questions in Parts One and Two of the work Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote over a decade ago: Jesus of Nazareth. The first covers Jesus’ earthly ministry; the second, Holy Week and Easter.
As to rising from the dead, Benedict said: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history and our experience of time but it has left a footprint within history. … the apostolic preaching with all its boldness and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter with the risen Christ, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen. The Apostles’ testimony draws life from the impact of an event that no one had invented, surpassing all that could be imagined.
Why did Jesus only reveal himself to a small flock of disciples, upon whose testimony we must now rely? …
It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of humanity. He becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and the decisive forces within history. He suffers and dies like all of us. And having risen again, he chooses to come to us only through faith. He continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our lives to him.
And yet, is this not the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love? Is it not what seems so small that is truly great? Does not a ray of light issue from Jesus, growing brighter across the centuries, that could not come from any mere man and through which the life of God truly shines in the world? … With Thomas we hear the invitation to touch the pierced side of Jesus and confess: “My Lord and my God!”
We know well that pierced side. “My Lord and my God” is not only an expression of joy when we recognize the risen Jesus, but also a cry of compassion when we recognize him in the suffering members of his Body. We watch as the war in Ukraine, tornadoes, and disease cause untold suffering. A pandemic disrupts the world’s health care, education, commerce, and politics, and the effects still linger. A loved one is diagnosed with cancer. A child dies. An accident leaves a friend paralyzed. A son goes to war. A daughter is laid off.
The catalog of human sorrows is long, and all too familiar. Suffering touches every life in some way – sometimes overwhelmingly. Happiness, security, even life itself, can seem so fragile. Where is God?
E aster matters, because we need hope and mercy. The
Resurrection of Jesus is our assurance that God has heard, and has responded, precisely with that hope and mercy. God is in our midst, still today and forever here as the Risen One.
Christ has died – and so death itself is holy, because we can share it with the Lord.
Christ is risen – and so the power of sin and death is overcome. We still experience them in time; but now they are just that – things of time, not of eternity. Before the Resurrection, it seemed for all the long ages that life was a brief moment, and then death went on forever. But now, in Christ, it is death that will pass away, and life that will go on, forever.
Christ will come again – and so there will be a resolution and a healing for all the suffering and sorrows we endure. These were precisely the sufferings and sorrows that he took on himself at the Cross. Bearing them in union with him, we find fresh courage, strength, and hope.
God has heard our cries; God has responded to our prayers; God has redeemed the world. In Christ – the same Jesus who comes to us every time we receive the Eucharist – death is destroyed, and life triumphs. We are renewed in hope and strength, and we are sent to share this same love with those around us in need: “Do this in memory of me.”
Easter matters, precisely because we know what it is like to suffer. We need hope and mercy; and they are given to us today, in love, by the Risen Lord.