EASTER VIGIL OR EASTER SUNDAY 2019
HE HAS RISEN AS HE SAID!
The celebration of Easter shows that there is light after the tunnel. And the message of the Passion Week is that there is glory after the via crucis or way of the cross. Hence, the Christian is reminded that if there is a Good Friday, there is also an Easter Sunday. Today, it is no longer the “crucify him,” “crucify him” of Good Friday. All the gospels are united in saying: He is risen! This is the controlling thesis for the next seven weeks in the liturgical calendar.
The angel of God announces to the women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus: “He has risen as he said.” – The New Testament uses one conspicuous Greek verb to announce the resurrection of Jesus in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The word is He is risen. It means to awaken from sleep, to wake up, to raise oneself, to rise up, to awaken the dead, to rise from the dead. As we can see, this word is very apt to the events of that first Easter morning.
- THE MEANING OF THE RESURRECTION
The resurrection simply means that Jesus who was dead and buried, came back to life. Jesus was dead and was in the grave already. He had given back his spirit to his Father. HE TRULY DIED. Tonight, we preach that he is alive. The same Jesus, who suffered and died and was buried; it is the same Jesus who is now alive again. He is now glorified and he has defeated death. Death has no power over him anymore. The resurrected Jesus cannot die any more.
The resurrection is different from resuscitation where a person who is alleged to be dead, gains his life and breaths again. We have heard stories of a person who fainted and was put in the mortuary. He gained consciousness in the night, and at that he nearly really dies, discovering himself among corpses.
The resurrection is different from the appearance of ghosts. Traditionally we hear stories of people who are said to dies in one place and reappear in other places—doing ordinary things like trading, farming, etc
- THE RESURRECTION EVENT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT; JESUS KNEW ABOUT AND PREDICTED IT
The point of departure of the feast of Easter is this phrase – he has risen as he said. Indeed, this is the summary of the pre-Easter predictions and the events of Easter. At various instances, Jesus himself pointed out that he was going to die, but that he would also rise from the dead. For instance, coming down from the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus confidently said: “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). Even, he knew well in advance where he would go after the resurrection. Accordingly, he said: “But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee” (Matthew 27:64).
This belief in the resurrection was quite firm and unshakable among a majority of the Jews of the New Testament period. This belief in the resurrection was strong particularly among the Pharisees. However, the group of the Sadducees did not believe in this. This situation is seen in the following text: Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:18-25; Matthew 22:23-31; LK 20:27-36).
There are other instances where the resurrection featured in the New Testament in connection with the Jews. In this regard, in Acts 23, while making his defense before the tribune, Paul cleverly exploited these differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in this way: When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamour arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks (Acts 23:6-10).
Paul was clearly aware of this frosty relationship between the Pharisees and Sadducees. Hence, he exploited it to apply the principle of “divide and rule.” And it worked for him very well here.
Another instance that shows this belief was when Paul was making his defense before the Governor in the Acts 24. He said: “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Acts 24:14-15).
Further, in John 11:24, Martha rehearsed an old Jewish belief in the resurrection when she said: “I know that he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” But there is a fundamental difference that makes this Jewish belief different from the Easter Resurrection. It is this declaration and assertion of Jesus, when he definitively said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25). This is significant in two ways.
- THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION
- a) Firstly, Jesus is now the embodiment of the belief in the resurrection. In practical terms, he has demonstrated what this means. And now we know that it is no longer a question of theological postulation but a historical reality. (i.e., the belief in the resurrection does not remain in books or theological discussion; it has really happened in the person of Jesus.) This becomes an open invitation to Christians to seek to be raised unto life.
- b) Secondly, from now onwards, the operational question is: Do you believe? This question is directed to contemporary Christians as well as those who float the various resurrection theories. This is not a hypothesis to be proved. It is an article of faith of the New Testament. It is about belief. In other words, it is ‘take it or leave it’ because it is not an object of proof. Simply put, it is an article of Christian faith.
In the celebration of today, the announcement of the angel at the tomb reminds us of the presence of angel Gabriel during his annunciation of birth. Hence, the angel declared and announced: “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6). This is what the feast of Easter is all about. So, he has risen as he said. We are invited to believe.
- DO NOT BE AFRAID
The feast of the resurrection announces the good news of Christ’s resurrection, and tells us not to be afraid, but to believe. The angel of the Lord tells the women—“Do not be afraid”. Jesus tells them same, “Do not be afraid”, when they meet him on the road to Galilee. The Apostles who were locked up in the room because they were afraid are also addressed here. They were afraid that what happened to Christ should not happen to them. Even when Christ was on earth, he always told his apostles and disciples not to be afraid.
Scripture scholars tell us that this phrase—“Do not be afraid” occurs 365 times in the whole of scriptures, which means that every day of the year Christ is telling us the same thing. Every morning we get up and make our prayer, Christ is telling us at the end, “Do not be afraid”. This is because the life of man is full of fear.
The Risen Christ says to us, “Don’t be afraid”, because through his resurrection, he has shown us that there is life after death. That is the main purpose of his resurrection, to tell us that death is not the end. (list some causes of our fears—sickness, witchcraft, poverty, unemployment, lack of love, being deserted by friends, fear of failure, etc.) We know and we believe. Christ has risen from the dead, Alleluia. Now he lives no more to die. Alleluia.
The joy of the resurrection could not be better described as Isaiah did in these words: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain. (Isaiah 25:6-10).
May this Easter truly take away all fear from our hearts and make us ready for the kingdom of God, where Jesus lives and reigns with the Father, in unity with the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.