He is not here! He is risen

All cultures and traditions have highly venerated tombs that go thousands of years back. The remains of kings or religious and cultural ancestors are preserved with immense reverence. These stand out among the living to give them historical identity and protection. Any kind of desecration of these sites is punishable by death in many cultures and they stand the taste of time! The tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is there but “empty!” And yet, it is the most venerated and visited tomb in the world; though His body is not there. In the Gospel of Mathew, the angel announces to Mary Magdalene that: “He is not here” (Mt 28:6). The body of Jesus of Nazareth is not there.  This phrase alone would connotatively mean mortal information for the women, if the second part of the phrase was not there: “for he is risen as he said”.

The body of Jesus of Nazareth was not there not because it was stolen, but “for He is risen as He said”. This is the Paschal Mystery; this is the most important “Good News”; consequently, the most important Christian feast!!! To illustrate the above historical facts, Egyptian pyramids are the world’s famous, being one of the “seven Wonders” of the ancient world: they are gigantic tombs containing the mummified bodies of Egyp tian Pharaohs. In many African countries, tombs of famous and charismatic leaders are adored, decorated and preserved. Kabakas’ tombs in Uganda, Mandela’s tomb in South Africa, Nyerere’s tomb in Tanzania are but a few to mention. Likewise, Westminster Abby is famous and thousands visit it because of the dead bodies of famous writers, philosophers and politicians buried there.

Notwithstanding, there is a Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and pilgrims from all over the world visit the tomb which is empty with a note at its entrance which says, “He is not here.” This tomb is famous because Jesus Christ who was once buried there rose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb, as He had told His disciples He would. Thus, He worked the most important miracle in His life, defying the laws of nature and proving that He is God: we rejoice at this great and unique event by celebrating Easter.

Actually, “Pascha” is a Greek word signifying passage from death to life! It literally means a passage from death to life, or as the people of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea: passage from slavery to freedom. The Ethiopian and Eritrean languages use the same word “Fasika” to designate Easter. The tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is the milieu where the unique event of passage from death to life, “Pascha” took place. Easter eminent as the greatest and the most important feast in the Church as it marks the birthday of our eternal hope, we celebrate it with pride and jubilation for the following reasons:

First, the Resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith. The Resurrection is the greatest of all miracles — it proves that Jesus is God.  St. Paul is loud and clear about this:  “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain…  And if Christ has not been raised, then your Faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins…  But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15:14, 17, 20).  

If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud and faith is a sham. But if Jesus really did rise from the dead, His message is true! Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained forever a good person who had met a tragic end like many other charismatic and revolutionary leaders.  People would remember some of His teachings and a handful of these would try living according to them. All the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of the Resurrection. “Jesus is Lord; He is risen!” (Rom 10:9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or “preaching”), of the apostles.     

Secondly, Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11:25-26).  Christ will raise us up on the last day, but it is also true, in a sense, that we have already risen with Christ.  By virtue of the Holy Spirit, our Christian life is already a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ.

Last but not least, Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement in this world of pain, sorrows and tears.  It reminds us that life is worth living.  It is our belief in the real presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal, as well as our common prayers.   Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears.  The prayer of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, reads: “Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part.” The resurrection of Christ is not a fairy tale or ‘fake news’ as the modern social media often warns.  On the contrary, it is historical and scientific. Jesus Himself testified to His Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22).

The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday (Luke 24:3). Although the guards claimed (Matthew 28:13) that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body, every sensible Jew knew that it was impossible for the terrified disciples of Jesus to steal the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by a 16 member team of armed Roman soldiers. In spite of His repeated apparitions, the initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection was obvious. This serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. It explains why the apostles started preaching the resurrected Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

However, the most visible proof is the transformation of Jesus’ disciples: the disciples of Jesus were almost immediately transformed from men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19) into men who were confident and bold witnesses of the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2). Because of their unwavering truth and courage, all of them faced the same death of martyrdom as their Master. We are the Disciples of Christ for our generation. We are to be bearers of the Good News of the Resurrection power. Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin and to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives.

Resurrection is about seeing our world in a new way. Early that Easter morning, Mary did not find what she was looking for, the dead body of Jesus. But, she found something better than she could have imagined: the Risen Jesus. Sometimes, the things we think we want most are not granted to us.  What we get instead is an experience of God’s new ways of working in the world. That’s the power of the Resurrection. When those moments come, we must spread the news–just as Mary did: for we have seen the Lord! Yes we have seen the Lord! And we have to proclaim it to our brothers and Sisters. (Father Sebhat Ayele)

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Father Javier Alvarado Ayala