Death’s strong bands have been broken! That good news could hardly come at a more needed time, enveloped as we seem to be by those very bands – the pandemic, random acts of violence, insurrection, uprisings, accidents, illness, and just the inevitable toll of advanced age. But the faith we celebrate today reminds us that death’s dominion is temporary and incomplete. For Jesus is risen!
We first turn to Mark this year for what may be the earliest of the gospel accounts of the Resurrection – excepting St. Paul’s repeated
testimony. He never tires of preaching it, just as he constantly reminds us how the price paid in the blood of the Cross led to this surprising turn. For no one expected Jesus to rise from the dead. Most of his disciples couldn’t believe it when they heard the news. Were they fearful, slow-witted, or just skeptical, like Thomas in the gospel of John? Mark tells us that the women who went to the tomb to anoint a dead body were so frightened to find it open and the body missing that they fled, telling no one what they had found.
Other, later gospels fill in the rest of the story. The women did not stay silent. There followed a time of confused and conflicting accounts of the details, rushed visits to the site, just as we might expect even today after a wildly astonishing event. But the most astonishing, incredible part was not that the tomb had that had held the dead body of Jesus was empty, but that the women had encountered him powerfully alive in the garden itself. Then two downcast (and slow-witted) disciples meet him late that afternoon on the road to Emmaus and, finally, the cowering disciples suddenly find him in their midst in upper room itself.
And so the world shifted on its spiritual axis, and at least to the eyes of faith has not been the same since. Death’s dominion has been destroyed. But that is not all. It is only the beginning, as Paul reminded his followers so early on in the story of Christianity:
“Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth,
for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life is revealed,
then you also will be revealed with him in glory” [Col 3:2-4].
Is it less difficult or more so for us to believe all this almost two thousand years later? The world tells us it cannot be so. Skeptics among Christians themselves often grow evasive about the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It is, after all, much easier and much simpler to think of the resurrection as simply a spiritual event in the minds of his followers, the raising of the memory of Jesus to indelibility because of the power of his message and his courage in the face of an unjust and cruel execution. But how can we account for that unlikely reversal on the part of those cowering fisherman and tax collectors, the fearful women and skeptical (and, yes, slow-witted) disciples? Especially confronted, as they were, by the increasingly bloody efforts of the religious establishment and imperial forces to suppress their message?
Today, two millennia later, the Resurrection continues to empower the faith of Christians just as it did when Jesus himself appeared in the midst of his frightened disciples on Easter night. Jesus still appears among us when we are tempted to lose faith, when church scandals, the lure of money, and the deep fears that haunt our sleepless nights threaten to weaken or destroy our faith. How else can we explain the daily miracles of faith that give us new hope and the will even to begin over again if our marriages go bad or we lose our pensions or our churches burn down or our children die in senseless drive-by shootings or senseless accidents?
“I am with you always,” he said.
So perhaps what those frightened women had cause to fear that morning so long ago was the sudden realization that somehow, despite everything, despite the horror of Jesus’ death, despite the paralysis that drove the Eleven into hiding, despite their own sorrow, doubts, and anxiety, somehow it was — unthinkably, unimaginably, incredibly — true.
Christos anesti! Christ is risen.