“Tell us, Mary: say what thou didst see upon the way.
The tomb the Living did enclose; I saw Christ’s glory as He rose!”
Victimae Paschali, Sequence for Easter Sunday
Victimae Paschali Laudes, the medieval sequence chanted before the proclamation of the Gospel on Easter Sunday, tries to express in beautifully inadequate words the reality of what we celebrate during the Easter liturgy.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact that can be verified and which we, as His disciples, affirm and celebrate. In fact, St. Paul tells us that our faith hinges on Jesus’ historical resurrection: “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). When we talk about the Resurrection of Jesus, we are not talking in symbolic or figurative language; we are confessing our core belief. We believe in a God who took on human flesh, lived among us, died to save us, and really and truly rose on the third day.
During the Easter season, however, the Church celebrates so much more! God’s power is not confined to Jesus’ historical resurrection over 2,000 years ago. God broke into the tomb then, and He is still breaking in now, wanting resurrection for us, too. In our baptism, we are baptized into Christ’s Paschal Mystery–that is, into Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience resurrection in our own lives as well. Consider the words of St. Paul to the Roman community: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Okay, Sefanit, really? Newness of life? Have you heard that we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic?! We are going on one month of being quarantined, I have been furloughed, and the closest we can get to our Church is the livestream Mass we watched for Holy Week. We are afraid and lonely. We want to go out, but we don’t want to jeopardize our lives or the lives of our loved ones. Perhaps God conquered death back then, but where is He today? Right now, this feels like defeat. It feels like we are still bound by burial clothes and inside the tomb.
While all of this is very true and my family and I are experiencing this as well, there is a unique opportunity that we have this particular Easter. Imagine what it must have been like for the first followers for Jesus. For those who would have experienced the first Easter. The first Easter wasn’t in a big, beautiful Catholic parish either. The first disciples were also huddled in their homes, terrified of leaving. They had heard the rumor from the women, but it did not seem possible. How does one rise from the dead? They saw Him crucified with their very own eyes. They performed the burial rites and rolled the stone in front of the tomb themselves. How could anything else be possible?
It was alone in their homes where they wrestled with this possibility. That even though it did not feel possible, God’s love was more powerful than the evil and suffering in this world. Isn’t this similar to what we are experiencing now? In my home, we have been watching the numbers dead from this vicious virus rise daily since the end of February. Every day, we get texts and emails from friends who are asking for prayers because they are being laid off, or their small business is in jeopardy. We, too, have family members who are health care professionals and are daily risking their lives to fight this pandemic. It does not feel like God has conquered death. Death seems to be all around us.
Right now is a great opportunity for Christians around the world to ask themselves what it is they actually believe. Times of great suffering have a way of cutting through the exterior and exposing our truest beliefs. For myself, I know that it was suffering that helped me to see that ultimately, for me, God was a good luck charm. I had entered into an agreement with God that went something like this–I will be good if you keep all the bad stuff away from me. That might sound infantile, but is it really? At the very center of being human lies the reality that suffering and death are inevitable, for saints and sinners alike, but reasonable people are always looking for a way out. We know what can happen, and we are always hoping it doesn’t happen to us. This is why suffering can be such a gift! It freed me from my childish faith and made me face my false god. I also believe this is why the crucifix is so central in Catholic life. In her wisdom, the Church knew that it was this image, the image of Jesus’ body broken and bleeding on an instrument of torture, that is the most profound truth of the paradox of our faith.
What is this paradox? It’s what we see being played out in our world right now. It’s the possibility that there can be a truth that is deeper than what our senses can perceive. That life for every single person is an interplay of suffering and joy and how we experience this is what St. Paul explains to the Romans: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
God wants ‘newness of life’ for us! What a beautiful promise. This newness, this resurrection from the past, from the sin and darkness that has kept us from living in the freedom promised to the children of God-that is what we are celebrating during the season of Easter. Not freedom from anything bad that can happen to you but a freedom from its effect on your life. Freedom to react differently. A new capacity to love those closest to you, a new depth of patience with those most difficult to love, another day having said ‘no’ to your addiction, hope instead of anxiety when looking into the horizon, a new depth of trust and surrender to the love of God. This is resurrection!
But just like Jesus was “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,” so too, we cannot make resurrection happen in our lives. Just as a farmer cannot make things grow but instead creates the circumstances for life to be possible, all we can do is create the circumstances possible for this ‘newness of life’ to grow. That is precisely what the focus of Lent was. Through our Lenten observances, we’ve made space in our lives for a God who never fails to give of himself, a God who never leaves that which He has encountered the same. His presence always creates, always heals, and always makes new.
The question isn’t ‘if’ God is at work but ‘how’ is He working. What in your life is God making new? What is God resurrecting you from? How does He want to heal you and change your heart? During this Easter season and for the remainder of the pandemic, let us ask for eyes to see what God is doing in our lives and the courage to cooperate with Him. Then, as we walk in the “newness of life” that the Gospel offers, may we experience the freedom and joy God wants for His children. Let us be light in the darkness that even we are experiencing and proclaim: this is not the end of the story. God is real, He is resurrecting me, and here’s how.