If you’re getting tired of Resurrection homilies, you’re out of luck. The Easter season celebrating the Lord’s dying and rising is the Church’s longest, stretching 53 days from the evening of Holy Thursday to Pentecost Sunday on May 24. That’s seven weeks and four days of remembering and reflecting on the core Christian message that God became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for the salvation of humankind.
No surprises that even the devout might stifle a yawn or two at mass homilies. After all, outside of ninetysomethings or the lethally and incurably ill, the Resurrection thing may not seem real or urgent. No one walking about the planet has gone through it, and only those checking out of this world soon entertain wishful thoughts of life after checkout.
Still, there’s nothing like taking away something to see its true value. So imagine if there were no Resurrection. If Jesus just stayed buried. If Mary Magdalene and her two fellow women disciples also named Mary went to the tomb the day after the Sabbath, and found his body still guarded by soldiers, as lifeless as it was coming down from the cross. If the whole ending of the Gospel accounts were just one big lie.
Well, to quote Saint Paul writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor 14: 17-19), “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Christianity minus Christ Risen
Okay, so Christianity turns out to be a millennia-old hoax. At least the Resurrection part. But even without Christ coming back from the dead, the faith is not totally in vain, is it? Surely, even if he did not rise, the life and teachings of Jesus still offer immense lessons for life and society.
The Golden Rule would still be valid; indeed, other great spiritual and philosophical sages like Confucius taught their versions of doing to others what you want others to do unto you.
Similarly, Jesus’s call for mercy and compassion, which echoes the Psalms and other Jewish writings, remains an indispensable tenet in addressing life’s inequalities and ills by having the fortunate help the less so, and people forgiving inevitable transgressions done by others, rather than punishing every failing.
As for Jesus’s other-worldly spirituality rejecting the lures of this world to give all to God, even one’s life, such total devotion to some outside greatness is not unlike the self-sacrificing commitment of great men and women, including countless atheists through the ages, to lofty ideals of service, knowledge, freedom, justice, artistry, mysticism, and other fields of human achievement.
And even if their faith proves false, the immense legacy of Christians through the centuries remains a towering pillar of human civilization, from the preservation and cultivation of learning during the Dark Ages in Europe, to the ideals of dignity and liberty, and the social reforms addressing oppression, injustice, slavery, inequality, poverty, and even environmental abuse.
Why the Resurrection matters
So what great loss is there in stopping the Gospel story on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday? Well, in a word, God.
If the Father did not raise His Son body and soul three days after Jesus’s death, then the Latter is just another man, gifted with great spiritual insight, but with no special relationship with God and certainly not partaking of His divinity.
Jesus would not be the Emmanuel (“God with us”) foretold in the Annunciation, not the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in Christian doctrine, and not the Savior of the World lifting creation to the holiness and divinity of the Creator.
Loyola Heights parish priest Fr. Dennis Soriano, reflecting on the Gospel of Saint Mark during the evangelist’s feast yesterday, said Jesus was a deep mystery even to his Apostles, who never understood who He really was all His life till His death. Many hoped He was the messiah who would restore Israel to worldly power and dominance. But the cross proved that belief false.
Then came the empty tomb, and everything was clear as day.
The Resurrection shed a dazzling divine brilliance on Jesus’s words and actions and the events of His life. The angel’s message to Mary about His virgin birth, the Youth who told His mother, distraught after three days of searching for him, that He was about His Father’s business, the heavenly praise at His baptism by John, the Transfiguration, His dying words on the cross — all that suddenly took on an unimaginable new meaning.
So did Jesus’s discourses about the Bread of Life, the Kingdom of God, rebuilding the temple in three days, rebirth in the Spirit, and Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Plus all those parables about the king’s banquet, the wedding virgins, the landowner and his tenants, the mustard seed, the lost coin, and the Good Shepherd.
And the most wonderful and awesome of truths made crystal clear by the Resurrection, expounded in the First Epistle of St. John (1 John 4:9-10): “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Take away the Resurrection, and also gone would be the Almighty Who has done and will do everything to save us and uplift all creation to His divine perfection, even sacrificing His only begotten Son.
But believe in the Risen Christ, and we know that despite all our excruciating pains, impossible challenges, and even seemingly irreversible death, our loving Father shall bring us final triumph and new life as He did His Son. Amen.