There is an extraordinary line in St. Matthew’s account of the passion. During the trial of Jesus, because there is conflicting evidence against him which is of no use to them, the High Priest eventually asks Jesus directly:
“I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus answered: “The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:63-64).
In other words, Jesus says “Yes I am the Son of God.” For Jesus to make a claim like that he must have been either a liar, insane, or he was telling the truth, because it is an extraordinary thing to say. We believe it was the truth and that is exactly who Jesus is, not just a holy man, or a prophet, but the Son of God.
In the book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, St. John the disciple of Jesus who stood at the cross, recalls a vision he had where a man appeared to him. He says that he saw what seemed to be a man. His hair was white as wool, or snow. His eyes were like fire. His skin was like shining bronze and out of his mouth came a double-edged sword. He says that he was so afraid when he saw this that he fell down as if dead. Then this person or being that he saw touched him and said
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld” (Rev 1:17b-18).
Who was this person? It was of course Jesus, risen from death. Not just the Jesus whose name we so often hear used carelessly as a swear word, but Jesus who is the Son of God. Now John, who had this vision, had known and lived with Jesus for at least three years, so why would Jesus appear to him in such a terrifying way? Perhaps to remind him and us of who he really is, that is, the Son of God.
From a human point of view Good Friday is the ultimate sign of despair. Everything falls apart and everyone is devastated. There is a terrible miscarriage of justice and Jesus, the one everyone was putting their hope in is tortured and killed. Even Jesus on the cross feels abandoned by God. Of course he is not actually abandoned by God but that is how he feels and he cries out “My God, my God why have you abandoned me.” The ultimate suffering is to feel that we have been abandoned even by God. From a human point of view it couldn’t get any worse.
Then we have the silence of Holy Saturday when Jesus is in the tomb. People are in shock, numb from what has happened and not sure what to do next. And now we come to Easter Sunday, the opposite of Good Friday and the ultimate symbol of hope. The unimaginable happens and rumours start to spread that Jesus is alive. ‘But that is impossible!’ many said. Most of the disciples would not believe it initially. But that is what happened. From a human point of view it is impossible and naive to think of such a thing, but there is more than the human at work here. The power of God has brought about something extraordinary which no human mind can take in. This is what God has made known to us.
The reason Easter is the ultimate symbol of hope is because now the worst thing imaginable, which is death, is no longer permanent. God has opened a doorway for us to something wonderful when we die, so that we can see and be with our loved ones again. Think of the people you love who are dead. Without Easter they could not experience happiness now and neither could we when we die. So now our life has greater purpose than just what happens here and that gives us a greater hope than anything else. Now we have reason to keep going even when things are difficult. Now we are given purpose and we have a better sense of what our life is about. Our journey that will lead us to God if we remain open to it.
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld.”