He is Risen! Finally we can say the word we have longed to say: “Alleluia!” And finally the Word has spoken to us: “I have conquered sin and death for love of you!” The Word, Jesus Christ our Lord, has indeed risen from the grave. Nothing is the same. Everything is illumined. What was once dark and hidden is now in the open and bathed anew in the light of love, compassion, and mercy because Jesus has saved us by His death and resurrection.
For forty days we have been in the process of Lent, trying our best to make sacrifices, to pray more fervently, to be more generous, and to do penance for our sin and that of the world. Nothing we have done, however, is equal to the price Jesus paid for us to have the salvation He offers. That should not make us feel guilty. On the contrary, the beauty of what He has done is in that very fact: there is nothing we can do that would ever be enough to equal the price He paid. Our efforts were and continue to be very important as we try to grow in holiness. But we do not earn salvation. He died for us because of love, not because of our guilt. That is indeed the unfathomable aspect of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as He came into the world out of love for us, He left the world as He did out of love for us. Nothing changed about the purpose of His life and His mission from start to finish. It was pure gift and this gift was always about love.
In Franciscan spirituality there is a tradition that because of the greatness of God’s love the Son of God would have come into the world even if we had not fallen into sin. He would have gone through with everything from birth through His horrendous suffering and death simply because He wants us to know how deeply He loves us. He does love us that deeply, but the reality is that we did fall from grace, we have sinned, and we did need Him to die and rise. And paradoxically, our rejection of Him made Him only love us the more. “Oh happy fault,” as we hear sung in the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet)* at the Easter Vigil Mass: our sin did necessitate His coming. That we do not deserve the gift makes is all the more precious. Nothing we did or can do will ever change His mind about His love for us. His love is beyond anything we can fathom or imagine.
At the Easter Vigil we are reminded through the Scripture readings of the consistency of God’s loving actions. We are reminded of creation, which began in beauty but was marred by disobedience, and yet it was not a complete ruination. That is because rather than annihilating Adam and Eve, God continued to give the gift of life, though it was limited by physical mortality. He did not abandon them, but rather He stayed with them in the beautiful world He provided for them in the first place. He gave them the gift of childbirth, so that forever after we would marvel at the arrival of beautiful little people who we have the pleasure and the gift of raising into adulthood. God, in continuous desire for our happiness, blessed His people to become a great nation, even when time and again they abused His love by betraying His covenant. In all the readings of the liturgy we hear messages of hope and of the victories He won for His people.
Then we hear of the greatest gift of all: the women went to the tomb only to find it empty. Jesus had won the victory over sin and death that only He could accomplish. Everything Jesus had done during His life was in order to meet that end. During His ministry He had continued the work of creation by healing those who came to Him and those who He met on the journey. He healed, forgave, and freed people right up until the moment when He breathed His last on the cross. Death could not hold Love down: when He died He gave us the ultimate healing, forgiveness, and freedom by descending to the netherworld, freeing those held there, and then rising in glory.
What is it that propelled Jesus through death and into resurrection? What is it that will continue to be with us for the entirety of our lives as we go through our own suffering, passion, and death? And what will help us to rise with Him on the last day? The answer to each question is Love. What we are witnessing and what we are rejoicing in this Easter is the conquering of all that is not of God by love. However, we must remember that the work is not over quite yet. Jesus overcame death, but we are needed to continue His work in our imperfect world. He has given us what we need to overcome all that assails us, and that is the power of love and all that which love means.
Jesus’ saving act reminds us that He constantly re-creates, He constantly forgives sin, and He makes everything more beautiful. Everything that was dimmed during Lent is now afire with the glory of the Risen Lord. We need to remember that what Jesus did is beyond our understanding and our imagination; it was freely entered into and was accomplished by the toil and action of God alone. Everything takes on a new light given the power of His love which was released in a new way at Easter. Every detail of life is renewed and He has broken down all barriers, even entering into our loneliness and suffering in order to redeem it with the hope of healing and salvation. We are assured that He is with us in everything and will give us healing, even if not in this life.
Therefore, everything is now seen in a new light and with a new clarity. Even the smallest flower, whether it is a cherry blossom or a tiny wildflower, is exquisite in its beauty. And, if small flowers abound in beauty, we also need to recognize the beauty of all life around us, especially that of our brothers and sisters. Love is emblazoned into our world and our hearts in the release of Jesus from the grave and the victory He has won for us. If we really allow ourselves to ponder upon what He has done for us, we would never stop crying tears of joy. And in this joy, we would recognize that the love He has for us is love for the life of the entire world. It is not ours to greedily possess, but it is ours to share in and to give away. And wonderfully, through the power of the resurrection, the more love we give away, the more we discover deep within our hearts.
Some of us may have great difficulty in feeling like rejoicing due to the circumstances of our lives. As long as we are here, suffering will be with us. It is clear that there is much in our world that is seemingly getting more broken by the minute and there is much that happens to us which causes pain. But what the resurrection assures for us is that 'this too shall pass,' and that during our time of travail we are never alone. God has fulfilled every promise He has ever made for us. It is not a matter of whether we deserve it, because surely we do not. But because of the resurrection of Jesus, we know that in the end He will fully overcome all evil, all sin, all suffering, all pain, and all that limits us. He left us not alone, but rather He is present in His Body and Blood to strengthen us as food for the entire way we need to travel. He gave us the cleansing water of baptism in which we receive the essential graces of faith, hope, and love in order to help us to circumnavigate the dangers of our world. He accompanies us through life with the many graces given to us, particularly in the gift of forgiveness so that we can be unencumbered by that which would keep us distant from him. With every sacrament, we participate in His resurrection anew. Let us rejoice, therefore, and be glad that we have this indescribably beautiful gift!
May we rejoice and be glad that we have the unfathomable gift of the love of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! May we give thanks and praise for the gift of Jesus conquering sin and death as we await His second coming which we know will happen in due time! May we allow the light of the Resurrection of Jesus to enable us to walk through the dark places in our lives and in our world! May we allow the joy of the resurrection to enliven us to live as Easter people, joy-filled, loving, compassionate, and merciful! And may our lives shout that He is risen from the dead! Alleluia! Alleluia! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Lord Jesus! Peace! Alleluia!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation, is sung at the Easter Vigil just after the Easter Candle has been lit and the church has gone from deepest darkness to blazing light. It is a very moving and breathtaking moment. The Exsultet is only sung once a year.
The painting at the top of the post is The Resurrection by Bl. Fra Angelico. Next is a photo I took at an Easter Vigil a few years ago. The next image is a painting of the three women at the tomb of Christ by German painter Peter von Cornelius. Following the painting is another of my photos of some wildflowers on a mountainside in Colorado. Finally is The Risen Christ, an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The icon can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-christ-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Heart Speaks to Heart