The Resurrection and Human Hope

Easter Sunday. Acts 10:34a.37-43; Ps 118:1-2,16-17,22-23; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

Last night, after the Procession to the altar at the Easter Vigil, I had the privilege to sing the Exultet. The words of this beautiful, ancient hymn of the Resurrection take us back nearly two thousand years to the pre-dawn darkness of the first Easter, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” Yet the triumph of Jesus Christ also causes us to rejoice for ourselves, as the next line explains, “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?” Without the Resurrection, as St. Paul says, our Faith is in vain, and if our Faith is in vain all of human life is in vain. Without Christ’s Resurrection we would have no reason to live.

Now to claim that without the Resurrection of Christ there is no point to human life may seem an exaggeration. Surely there are many good things in life even without Faith? The point, however, is that true happiness is permanent, yet there is no final material permanence to anything in life that is separate from Christ. Even in the relatively short time of our own lives it is possible to see many examples of this impermanence, of the transient nature of things. To take a recent example, two weeks ago an invisible pyramid nearly collapsed in New York. Invisible pyramids, especially financial pyramids, are dangerous if they are built on sand. But even stone pyramids do not last very long before being reclaimed by the sands of the desert. All the things that we do, and even our bodies, quickly return to the dust of the earth. Furthermore, the earth itself is in slow but constant motion and, in the last century, we discovered that the universe as a whole is changing. In 1927, the astrophysicist Georges Lemaître, who was incidentally also a Catholic priest, predicted the theory of universal expansion now known as the 'Big Bang'. But this theory of a cosmic beginning also points towards cosmic death. This entire universe is 'temporary'. No natural material thing is permanent, and even the immortality of the human soul might be more a curse rather than a blessing, if the soul is lonely and separated from God.

So the human mind can range over the whole of space and time and find no hope for true happiness, unless God intervenes. The message of Easter Sunday is that God has intervened, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” First, and most importantly, the Resurrection confirms the spiritual victory Christ won on Calvary. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross enables us to receive complete forgiveness of our sins, as St. Peter tells us in today's First Reading. With our souls healed and reconciled to God, the immortality of the soul is now a cause of joy rather than dread. Second, the Resurrection is a physical Resurrection. Christ's tomb was found empty, and, as St. Peter also tells us, we “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” The risen Christ still bears the wounds of the crucifixion, yet these are now trophies of triumph over sin and death. The human nature of Christ and everything he did and suffered has been raised and glorified forever. Christ is the 'first-fruits' of the new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, and the Resurrection of Christ offers a foretaste of our own resurrection. Where Christ has gone we hope to follow, to enjoy true and lasting happiness with God and his angels and saints forever. That is the cause for our rejoicing this Easter Sunday.   

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 23rd March 2008

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