St Paul tells us that if the Lord has not risen, everything that Jesus preached would have been in vain; all of Jesus’ teachings and even His sufferings and death would have come to nothing and Jesus would have been just another great prophet. But, today on this Easter day, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection; the Resurrection of the Son of God. He has indeed risen and we all rejoice because He has Risen.
The joy of Easter is not a superficial joy of fireworks, but a joy and happiness in our hearts because the Son of God has thrown open the gates of heaven so that all peoples, including ourselves, can enter eternal life and enjoy happiness with God for all eternity. That’s the joy and happiness that we are celebrating today on Easter.
The Truth of Christ’s Resurrection is a gift of faith. But, how much and how deeply we believe in its truth depends a lot on how receptive we are to the Risen Christ’s Spirit that is present in our hearts and life.
In the Gospel of St Luke that we just heard proclaimed, we hear of how “the women who went to the tomb of Jesus, (were shocked) to find it empty. They stood there not knowing what to do. Then two angels asked them, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen. The women then rushed back to tell the disciples what had happened, but they considered their story to be pure nonsense.” However, Peter the apostles Peter went running to the tomb. He bent down and saw the binding cloths, but nothing else; he then went back home, amazed at what had happened.
While all of us believe that Christ has risen and has open the gates of heaven for all believers to enter when we die, even as this is very true, the depth of our believe in this truth varies between each of us. This is like saying that while all of us here love God, all of us love Him differently; some of us more intensely and personally than others.
To understand the meaning of Easter and the joy of the Risen Christ more fully, it is important that we first remember that the Jesus of Easter comes only after the Jesus of the Passion and Death. The joy of the Risen Christ conquering sin and death comes only after at the big price of the meaningless sufferings that Jesus went through. If we try to “short cut” the Paschal Mystery, so to speak, by trying to bypass and ignore the Passion and Sufferings of Jesus, is like trying to celebrate Easter without Good Friday; this will cheapen and dilute the Truth of the Resurrection. This is because both the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus form the one Paschal Mystery of the Good News of salvation.
Take the case of Fr Pierfilippo Guglieminetti. He is a Jesuit priest who is probably close to eighty years of age, now living in Hong Kong. In one video clip interview he shared, “Three years ago, I was alone in a big parish all day; celebrating three to four Holy Masses on Sundays. Then, after one Easter Feast, I fell down; I went to the hospital. There they found I had cancer of the intestines. Now, it seems I also have cancer of the bones. Then, [soon after that], I had an accident; I lost the right eye and my left eye is becoming weaker and weaker. [But], I am happy! And this is a very interesting experience. Many times, when I was in solitude or loneliness, I felt such deep joy that [helped me] understand the meaning of our religious life. It is a joy without reason because it is a joy which comes directly from God. And still more, even if I had a very hard, [and] a very painful time, also during these times, I was always peaceful and happy. Happy in my vocation because I know that it is the Will of God [who wanted] me to work very hard in my pastoral job before and now He has given me this grace to share more deeply in the mystery of the cross.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we hear of such a moving story like Fr Pierfilippo, we feel like crying; we are deeply edified by his life because we see how he is able to find the “Suffering Christ” in his “Risen Christ.” Fr Pierfilippo is able to live the Paschal Mystery concretely in his life so fully that he is even able to find great joy and peace in the Lord in spite of his painful sufferings of cancer of the intestines and bones, of sustaining an accident that robbed him of his right eye and now on the verge of losing his other eye.
The Paschal Mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus is one inseparable mystery; we cannot conveniently split them. One reason why it is so tempting to split them and focus on the Resurrection and eternal happiness without the Passion is because none of us, in our sound mind wants pain and suffering in our lives if we help it. Christianity would also become more attractive if we can get to heaven without any pain and suffering.
If Fr Pierfilippo’s faith is not deep enough to accept his sufferings and pain, he would likely become bitter and angry with God, and probably even lose his religious vocation and faith in God. That’s what happens to believers whose faith is weak when tested. If we were simply to preach and sing “Rejoice, the Lord is Risen,” as though we can conveniently brush aside the Passion of Christ, we would be preaching and promoting an immature and unrealistic Christian faith; and that is not the Paschal Mystery that we believe in.
I am not saying that we should dwell on the Sufferings of Jesus and remain in the spirit of Good Friday in a pessimistic and gloomy mood throughout the year, and always focusing on what sins we have committed. What I am simply reminding ourselves is that both the Passion and the Resurrection go together and cannot be separated.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, at the Good Friday service, I preached on how when something tragic happens to us and our family, especially when we have to suffer innocently due to no fault of ours like an accident, a sudden terminal illness, losing our job suddenly and the like, we naturally ask ourselves and God, “What wrong have I done? Why do I have to suffer?”
In a more serious way, in our world today, hundreds of millions of people who die of starvation and poverty due to no fault of theirs, but due to the evil and unjust social structures of the world that continue to oppress them are asking the same question, “What wrong have I done? Why do I have to suffer?” These are: the migrant workers, refugees, children in labour camps, victims of landmines, and many others who are lured into drug trafficking, prostitutions, and killed through the evils of abortion, euthanasia, ethnic cleansing, scientific testing, political and religious violence and the like.
Jesus who was persecuted and crucified even though He was absolutely innocent would rightly too want to ask Pilate, the High Priests and the crowds this very question, “What wrong have I done? Why do I have to suffer?”
However, today, as we celebrate our Easter joy of Christ rising from His death to destroy sin and death, we are all celebrating the great joy of eternal life as our final destiny in life.
Throughout Jesus’ sufferings, He drew strength and consolation from knowing that every thing He did was to fulfil His Father’s Will to save everyone of us. Likewise, for those of us and the hundreds of millions of people who suffer innocently, we too are called to remember and draw strength from the Truth that God has created you and me, and all peoples in the world for eternal happiness, in heaven.
Fr Pierfilippo and many people I know, regardless of their human sufferings are not only able to unite their sufferings with Christ’s sufferings, but also able to transcend them to live the “Easter graces” and be consoled that our pain on earth will soon come to pass. To them, the Easter joy is their strong belief of gaining eternal happiness when they die. This gives them a real hope also because in their daily living, their closeness to Our Lord and love for Him, is so concrete and incarnational, that they are able to find the presence of God in both the pains and joys of their daily living.
And so as I conclude, let me simply say that we should all be rightly filled with the joy of Easter today, because Christ, Our Lord has Risen. And the Risen Lord is assuring us that in every thing that we do, His Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Christ will be present with us, to empower us to live thegift of eternal life that has already begun in the here and now of our daily living. Eternal life begins now and not only after death.
This reality will be felt and experienced more so if we are able to integrate the gift of eternal life that comes from the Risen Christ, with the Suffering Christ who bore our sins and wiped them away with the threats of the darkness of death.. The Spirit of the Risen Lord, assures us that in our love for Him, like Fr Pierfilippo, and other saints and exemplary Christians that we know, we will surely enjoy eternal happiness when we leave this world .
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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