I have some friends for whom this has been an agonizing Holy Week. They had little twin boys born seven weeks ago and one of their baby sons had a heart defect. Once he had put on a bit of weight, it was time for him to have his corrective heart operation; it turned out that this took place on Holy Thursday afternoon. He was very much in my mind as I prayed at the Altar of Repose after the Holy Thursday Mass — waiting and praying as the apostles were asked to by Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He entered into the agony of the Passion. I prayed the Rosary … the sorrowful mysteries … Jesus’s agony in the garden, His scourging … crowning with thorns … The brutal afflictions that we meted out on the gentle, divine Saviour. I had still not had any word from the baby’s parents as to how he was. I carried on, taking up the glorious mysteries … Full of hope I began the 1st glorious mystery … The Resurrection of Jesus … and then, within just three or four Hail Marys, I had received a text with news (my phone was on silent!) … and I was able to pop out and check it. Thanks be to God, the operation had gone well: he was recovering in Intensive Care and his heart was functioning better already.
It was a little, but significant, ‘resurrection’ — a moment in which one could only place all one’s trust in the Lord, to do as He wishes; to accept the outcome of a moment of suffering in His divine embrace. Any of us — perhaps each of us — who has experienced such a relief, the lifting of some burden, know just what a wave of almost physical joy there is at hearing good news.
Now let’s apply that idea to the event of the Resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps we are so used to the Good News, that we find it hard to partake of the depths of emotion felt by Our Lady, the apostles, the other disciples like Mary Magdalene, who were with Our Lord in Jerusalem that Passover. The very one on whom they had pinned their hopes — the very one whom they were sure was the Messiah, the Christ — had been trapped in a vicious power struggle between the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities: it was better, they felt, “for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish.” But this was far more than just some blip in the world’s long history of jealousy and bitterness. This was in fact a punishment meted out to the Holy One of God, precisely because He brought God’s perfect, unsettling, demanding, Gospel message of love/forgiveness/commandment. He had to die, because the world of sin finds it too hard to accept the holy message of God; and chooses to eliminate it. Those disciples who instead had heard and understood the message; those whose hearts had been opened by grace to believe in Him; they seemed crushed by the turn of events. With utter brutality, Jesus was arrested, tried, mocked, beaten, forced up the hill carrying His own cross of execution, then nailed and left to hang on the nails until He expired. Feel the worry of the apostles; sense the sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs as He is taken from them like this! What could they do but trust in God … and yet, which of them was probably even able to do that? Maybe, just maybe, they kept trying to reflect on his repeated prediction, “and on the 3rd day He must rise again.” But that was no part of their experience; what could He have meant?
Now, sense the unimaginable relief, as news of His Resurrection on the 3rd day filters through. It is Sunday morning, still just about dawn; they have lived for a long desolate Saturday with the feelings of grief that Jesus was dead and buried. At first the stone is found rolled back by Mary Magdalene and the other women; then Peter and John go and inspect the empty tomb; then Our risen Lord appears Himself to Mary Magdalene, and then gradually to others, including the Eleven apostles. The only possible truth is dawning on them: He has indeed risen. The relief, and the joy, and the sense of enormity of this resurrection also dawns on them. Jesus has risen from the dead. Never before had this happened, not like this; someone well and truly killed, dead, and buried, had now risen in a new, and glorious way; truly alive, and alive in a way that surpassed the limits of His humanity. The only explanation for this was the one He had been explaining again and again in His teaching: that He was the Son of the Living God. Only He could have such power over life and death, as to come back to us from the dead.
When we remember the little resurrections that happen in daily life: the joy of the sun rising on a new day; the relief of the spring, the temperature rising after a long, cold winter; the rising of a loved one from a grief or setback or anxiety … all these lift our spirits each day, and are signs to us of God’s goodness. But The Resurrection — the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead — is altogether something else. It is a communal, profound, and lasting relief: it allows all of humanity to breathe a sigh of relief. It is humanity knowing that the worry of sin and death, the burden of our failings, our frailty, even our mortality, does not need to keep us down. The Resurrection is the antidote to all of those things; it is the medicine to heal those things; it is the joy of knowing that disaster no longer threatens us.
If we heard some good news, news that lifted a burden of worry, wouldn’t we let our hearts be eased? Wouldn’t we be thought odd if we ignored the good news and kept feeling worried and down about something, even if we’d heard the good news? Surely it’s the same with the Rising of Jesus from the dead? Why would anyone want to ignore the Good News of that? — the truly earth-shattering Good News that Jesus has overcome the sins of humanity, the suffering we inflicted on Him, that He soaked up in His own body; the heaven-opening Good News that He offers us a way beyond the grave, the way to eternity. We could ignore it, the Good News, and stay locked in to our petty worldly concerns; but what human sense would that make, when Jesus is there to lift us up, to raise us up out of our sins, and out of the grave? Who would want ever to stay fallen in sin, defeated in death, when the Lord is offering His hand to live again, to live for ever?
Let’s be sure that what we are offering the world — our true faith in Jesus’s victory — we must live as people really uplifted by the Gospel, people of Easter joy! The Lord has truly Risen, Alleluia Alleluia!