Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter Sunday. 'I am the First and the Last; the Living One. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever.'


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 incredible claim to make. 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 Apostle, who stood at the cross, recalls a vision he had when he was in exile near the end of his life. In the vision 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. He fainted. 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 form? Perhaps to remind him and us of who Jesus really is, that is, the Son of God.


From a human point of view Good Friday is the ultimate sign of despair and failure. 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 in a very savage way and killed. Even Jesus on the cross feels abandoned by the Father. 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 then 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. It took them some time to be really convinced of it. From a human point of view, it is impossible and naive to think such a thing could happen, but there is more than human 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.


A childhood friend of mine asked me to do his wedding, which I was happy to do. I asked him if he would be receiving Holy Communion, as I didn’t know if he was a practicing Catholic. He said he would like to, but he told me he didn’t believe in the resurrection. He was a pathologist (the doctors who do autopsies). He said as a scientist he couldn’t accept the resurrection. I admired his honesty. He wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, but from looking at dead bodies, he knew from a human and scientific point of view that the idea of a body coming to life again after death, was impossible.


From a scientific point of view, it is impossible, but so is creating something out of nothing. If God is real and God has created the universe, why would raising someone from the dead be impossible? But that is where faith comes in. Rationally it is not possible, but for God everything is possible. Remember when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said she was to become the mother of Jesus. Then he told her that Elizabeth was already six months pregnant, ‘Because nothing is impossible for God.’ (Luke 1:37). From a human point of view the virgin birth was impossible, as was Elizabeth conceiving a child in her old age. But what does impossible mean? It means not possible from a human point of view. We tend to be quick to dismiss things as impossible, when they don’t make sense to us. In a way, that is small-minded of us. Why should something be impossible just because I don’t understand it? All of us have very limited knowledge.


Throughout the bible there are many accounts of God intervening in nature. Many of the women in the Old Testament conceived miraculously when they were either barren or well past the age of childbearing. Just because it is beyond our understanding, or logic, doesn’t mean it cannot happen.


I think there is a certain humility required with faith. We would like to think that with enough scientific development, we would be able to explain everything, but we can’t. Even science is full of contradictions.


Easter is the ultimate symbol of hope, 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, that is, our journey that will lead us to God if we choose to accept God and soon we will renew our Baptismal promises, which is saying yes to this. Yes I believe what God has done and yes I accept Jesus as Lord and that eternal life is only possible through him.


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.”


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