By Dr. Jenny O'Brien
In an address from St Peter’s Square on Easter Monday, 2019, Pope Francis named the resurrection of Christ as “the most shocking event in human history” – shocking, because it should not have been possible. Those who die do not return to life, and yet this was the reality that faced the women at the tomb. They had come to anoint Christ’s body only to find the tomb empty and be told by an angel, “Do not be afraid. He is not here, for he has risen.” (Mt 28:5-6). Fear turned to joy and the women ran to tell the other disciples. And this is the message that has been passed down to us from the very beginning of Christianity: because Jesus has been raised from the dead, we too have the promise of resurrection. At the very heart of all our hope is Christ’s death and resurrection.
There are some, perhaps many, who would say that this is all just nonsense. We only have to look around to see a world beset with war, pandemic, social upheaval and economic inequality, a world where chaos and terror reign and where uncertainty prevails. Don’t we have every reason to be afraid and to feel confused? Yet the message resounds, “He is risen!” Through his death and resurrection Christ has overcome the powers of sin and death and so guaranteed a pathway through this broken and often frightening world.
Even Jesus’ closest followers did not recognize this right away. They did not believe what the women told them until they themselves had gone to the tomb and seen the empty linen cloths. Nor did the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize him right away as he walked alongside them; they only recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them. Then their hearts were filled with joy and they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they had seen the Lord.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope – not just a sense of optimism, but the real hope that is God’s gift to us, the hope that is convinced that with Jesus walking beside us there is nothing that can befall us that cannot be turned to good. This beautiful gift of hope is what we as Christians must give to those whose world is dark and uncertain. We share this gift when we weep with those who weep; when we give support to those who are sad or struggling; when we encourage those who have lost confidence in themselves; when we visit the lonely or contribute to charities who care for the hungry and homeless; when we stand up for those who have been vilified because of colour, race or religion; when we smile with those who are happy and rejoice with those whose life is going well.
During the fifty days of Easter let us contemplate the fundamental difference that Jesus’ resurrection makes to how we live in our world. Jesus’ message to his followers was threefold: “Do not be afraid! … My peace I give you. … I am with you always, until the end of time.” Every human life encounters difficulties of one kind or another, from minor annoyances to truly serious and life-threatening situations. But because of Jesus’ resurrection we can meet every circumstance with an attitude of hope, turning to him for the peace that the world cannot give, and finding in him a travelling companion who dispels darkness and instils not only courage but joy in our hearts.
The joy of Easter must radiate from every Christian so that resurrection hope can permeate the world. Let us be people of cordiality, of friendship, of welcome, of inclusion. Let our very lives proclaim that Christ is risen, so that in the hearts of those we encounter the refrain might echo back: “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”