Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Marienhaus, Germany
April 22, 2000
Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Is 54:5-14; Is 55:1-11
Bar 3:9-15,32-4:4; Ez 36:16-28; Rom 6:3-11; Mk 16:1-7
When the Scribes and the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to show that his words were true, that he was sent from God, Jesus responded: “No sign will be given to this generation except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Tonight we celebrate that sign and all that it means! Jesus, after having spent three days DEAD in the earth, after having been tortured and killed on a Cross for all of Jerusalem to see, HAS RISEN FROM THE DEAD!
We Christians today perhaps accept this fact TOO readily, I think, and as a result often *underappreciate* the true meaning this event would have had for the first disciples, not to mention us and everyone who has ever lived. Pause for a second just to consider what we believe about Jesus. We believe, among other things, that he was conceived by the power of God in the virginal womb of a young teenage girl. We believe that he walked on water. We believe that he fed 5000 families with five fish and two loaves of bread. We believe that he cured countless sick people, expunged legions of demons, and raised Lazarus from the dead four days after Lazarus had died. Then we believe that he himself after having been scourged, beaten and hammered to a tree in front of countless eyewitnesses, having breathed his last and lowered his head, having been pierced with a sword to prove that he was dead, having been taken down from the Cross in the arms of his mother, anointed with oils, and then laid in a tomb that was sealed with a huge stone, ROSE FROM THE DEAD 40 hours later. We Christians often take these facts too readily for granted. Let me ask you: If a teenage girl came to you and said she was pregnant but she had never been with a man, would you believe her? If you saw a man walking on water during a storm, would you not think your eyes were deceiving you? Have you ever seen a man rise from the dead?
Each of these claims is completely outrageous from the point of view of typical human experience. This fact was not lost on the early Christians. The ancient pagans in the Roman empire used to constantly mock the first Christians for believing in superstitions like “a god dying” or a “man rising from the dead.” These pagans, to taunt the Christians, used to constantly remind them that their so-called Savior had been tortured and killed by the Romans and had died on a Cross. They did it so often that the Christians became so embarrassed of the crucifixion — Jesus, the God-man, being killed on a Cross — that they didn’t start putting a corpus on the Cross until the 400s, after Christianity had become the official religious of the empire. The ancient Christians knew that when they put their faith in the Christ’s resurrection, they were believing in something that was ridiculous from a human point of view. They knew it made them seem like those today in the United States who maintain that Elvis is still alive — in other words, it made them seem CRAZY. But they believed that these facts which sounded too good to be true really were true, and everything in their lives changed as a result. They recognized that Jesus was either who he said he was — the Son of God, the Messiah, who had come into the world to save us from our sins, who had worked all of these miracles and risen from the dead as he had prophesied — or he was the GREATEST LIAR OF ALL TIME, not to mention a blasphemer and a lunatic who would actually believed that he was the eternal Son of God. To believe that Jesus was merely a good man was not an option: how could a “good man,” a good moral teacher, actually claim to be God if he weren’t? These Christians knew that if Jesus truly had truly risen from the dead, if the sign of Jonah were true, then that confirmed EVERYTHING Jesus had said, about life, about death, about the truth, about God. As Jesus said on a few occasions to the scribes and pharisees, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.… If you do not [believe me because of my words], then believe me because of the works themselves.” The works of the Father — most especially his greatest, most miraculous work of all, raising Jesus from the dead — confirmed everything Jesus had said. And the first Christians knew that it meant that their lives should therefore change to conform entirely with this way, truth and life, this Good News incarnate, who was Jesus, the Risen Lord, the Son of God.
The Resurrection of Christ is ground-zero in our Catholic Faith. Everything we believe basically comes from this fact and is based on it. There are today many so-called Catholic and Protestant Biblical and theological “scholars” — many here in Germany, many in the United States — who say that if Jesus’ body were found in the tomb, it really wouldn’t change our faith very much. St. Paul answered them two-thousand years ago when he said to the Corinthians, who were raising a similar point: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain and you are still in your sins.” If Christ is not risen from the dead, therefore, then everything we hold in the Catholic faith is a grand charade. Then our hope in eternal life is just a delusion. Then what we eat in the Eucharist is just strange-looking bread and cheap wine. Then all of our efforts to be good really have no ultimate foundation, and, as St. Paul says, the logical consequence is that we should all “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” To put it in more concrete terms, if Christ has not risen from the dead, then the last one of us to leave this chapel and throw off our cassocks and habits is the biggest fool of all.
THAT’S HOW IMPORTANT THIS EVENT WE CELEBRATE TONIGHT IS! That’s the reason why we will take *fifty days* to celebrate it! That’s the reason why we will sing Alleluias until our lungs burst. That’s ultimately the reason why we do EVERYTHING we do as Christians. For we Christians BELIEVE WITH CERTAINTY through the gift of faith that this mind-blowing event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead REALLY HAPPENED early one Sunday morning nearly 2000 years ago. We believe with certainty in faith that this occurrence is simply the GREATEST EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. It confirms everything Jesus said: That God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to save us from our sins, just as Jesus said; That Jesus is the only way to eternal life; That Jesus is the Truth; That God created the world with a purpose; That there is a meaning to human life; That ultimately God created us out of nothing but love with a vocation to love and a vocation to eternal happiness with him provided that we freely accept that gift by choosing Jesus and the truth he is in our choices here on earth.
Too many Christians today behave like the ancient Israelites in the third reading. The Israelites had witnessed the UNBELIEVABLE event of God’s *separating the Reed Sea in two* to allow the Israelites to pass through the midst of it, and then watched as the waters returned on the Egyptians. What greater sign — not to mention the ten plagues! — could there possibly have been that there is a God, who cares for them, and who’s in control of all of history? What greater sign could there have been that this Moses was who he said he was, the servant of YHWH, and should be trusted? Yet soon afterward in the desert, they started complaining about their food and their future, worshipping golden calves, and falling away from practicing their faith in God. So, too, many Christians today are too ready to forget the fact of the resurrection, not to mention the fact of so many countless miracles that are occurring every day by the power of God through the intercession of Christian saints. They grumble about Christ’s moral teachings courageously taught by the Church he founded and guides. They begin to worship themselves, or money, or sexuality, or countless other pet idols or causes. Sometimes this happens even in religious life, when religious lose the sense of what their purpose is.
We Christians, and particularly we priests and religious, are, by our baptism into Christ’s death and Resurrection, witnesses of this Resurrection of Christ from the dead. By our words, by our actions, we are called to proclaim in EVERYTHING we do our belief that all that we hold in faith is true, and that these truths are the pearl of great price worth giving up EVERYTHING ELSE we have in order to obtain this treasure. We’re called to show our belief to the world that what Jesus and what he revealed is the only true path to happiness. We are therefore called to show, beginning right now, that we believe him when he says we are called to love God with ALL our mind, heart, soul and strength. To love each other with the love of Christ himself. To be meek and merciful, forgiving, pure in heart, generous in welcoming others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking care of the sick and imprisoned. We are called to show our faith and trust in God who will take care of us in all circumstances of life and adorn us with himself much more than the “lilies of the field” or “Solomon in all his glory.” We are called to take this Lumen Christi shining so brightly in the Paschal Candle into our own new hearts of flesh and then out to others as the Light of the World. We are called to live in this world with our hearts truly set joyfully in the next. As St. Paul says in the second reading, if we have died with Christ — and we have through baptism — we believe we should also live with him. And as we’ll hear in tomorrow’s Scriptures, if we have been raised with Christ, we should seek the things that are above. If Christ has been raised from the dead, therefore, — and he has! — we should live with a contagious joy that proclaims, in all of our deeds and words and smiles, the *greatest news the world has ever heard*, that God so loved us that he sent his Only Son to die out of love for us so that we might live forever in joy with him, beginning now in this life, continuing forever in the next.
My sisters in Christ, we are the disciples of the One who has conquered sin, death, and hopelessness once and for all! Let us rejoice and never cease! Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!