Easter Sunday A
Fr James McTavish, FMVD
Witnesses of the Resurrection
Last night we celebrated the Easter vigil. In one moment we brought the lit Easter candle into the darkness of the Church hall where all the lights had been turned off. One little boy was mesmerised by the Easter light. His eyes lit up when he saw the candle enter the darkness. He was pointing with his finger with an enchanted gesture on his face. That episode helped me very much to enter into the celebration. How great to be able to spot the light in the darkness – “the light shines in the darkness and darkness has never put it out” (John 1,5).
The Lord is risen, the resurrection has occurred but we need eyes of faith to see it. It is interesting that in the Resurrection appearances, not one person recognized the Risen Christ, neither the disciples, neither Mary Magdalene. The Risen Christ reveals himself – through the breaking of the bread (disciples of Emmaus), a personal dialogue (Mary Magdalene) or a miracle (the beloved disciples recognizes Him after they unexpectedly land a big catch). They did not see the bodily Jesus as they did before as now he has a glorious body. How can he be seen then? The women go to the tomb and are told by an angel not to seek the one who is alive among the dead. This is a very wonderful counsel for us too – not to look in the tomb for the Risen Christ! What can that tomb be? Certainly one big tomb, which is very invigting is the tomb of pessimism, the tomb of bad memories, the tomb of rancor (and how many times we waste time there!), the tomb of hopelessness. But Christ is not in the tomb, he is risen, alleluia.
We need to ask for new eyes. Eyes that are capable not to notice only the darkness but that can see the Easter light shining brightly. St Paul in the second reading of today talks about seeking what is above and not what is here below - “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-4) How can we seek what is above? One way is to put into practice what the Holy Spirit is asking and not to follow the desires of our flesh, or the wants of the ‘old man’.
When I first met the Verbum Dei community in Sydney Australia, after a few months I got the chance to go to the Philippines to spend time with the Verbum Dei community there. While I was away I lent the Sisters my little car, it was a Daihatsu Charade. A severe hailstorm struck Sydney and damaged property and cars. When I returned to Sydney after the enjoyable Philippines trip I phoned up the Sisters to inquire about my beloved little car. I was worried about it and asked them if the front windscreen had been smashed. I was relived upon hearing that it was not. As I walked to their house to pick up my car I was thanking God that my car had been saved. That was until I saw my car. True enough the front windscreen was intact but the rest of the car was smashed to smithereens! The other windows were broken and it had hundreds of deep dents where the large hailstones had struck it. I started to complain to God. Then I discovered that all cars affected by the storm would get a full insurance rebate so I thanked God once again! One way we can live a risen life is by being more generous especially with what we have.
The Lord is also risen in our relationships, in that relationship that maybe we have taken for granted, in that relationship that maybe is strained or even dead. Here the Lord has resurrected! It reminds me of the Christian art in the catacombs. Sometimes the Lord’s resurrection is symbolized by the phoenix. This mythical bird after its death in fire would rise up again from the ashes. St Clement (the fourth Pope) in his first epistle to the Corinthians cites the phoenix as an emblem of the resurrection. “Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.”
Of course the description of St Clement is rather colourful – well he is writing in the second century AD and if he had Google one quick search would have confirmed that the phoenix is actually a mythical creature. Still it is beautiful to cite from early Christian writings and see that the analogy of faith still holds true today. St Clement than asks “Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfill His promise?”
Christ is risen, like the phoenix and death no longer has power over him. We are all called to be witnesses of his resurrection. How can we be witnesses? Well the Church in her wisdom gives us the Octave now, eight days to discover the power of the resurrection. Each day the Liturgy will offer resurrection appearances to reflect on. St Peter stated that Christ appeared only to those “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10, 41). We too have to eat and drink with the risen Christ. In what sense? Well we can eat ad drink with Jesus in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood, a privileged place to open our eyes of faith, to see his risen presence there. But there is another banquet table where we can eat with him. The table of the Word of God. St Jerome stated “The flesh of the Lord is true food and his blood true drink; this is the true good that is reserved for us in this present life, to nourish ourselves with his flesh and drink his blood, not only in the Eucharist but also in reading sacred Scripture. Indeed, true food and true drink is the word of God which we derive from the Scriptures ” (Cited in Verbum Domini, footnote 191)
So the Scripture is a privileged place to eat and drink with the risen Christ. We need to pray folks! We need to contemplate the Easter mystery and in our prayer to experience the risen Christ. In this way we can truly become witnesses of the resurrection!