Today any preacher is in a good place. All he has to do is say what Easter says. And Easter says: Christ is risen!
God has raised the crucified and buried Jesus from the dead, and has set him in the fullness of life. And this for us. He has overcome death for us!
Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in Palestine two thousand years ago, has not been left there, as it were, along with all his contemporaries. We don’t just say there was once someone called Jesus of Nazareth. We say that he is. He is now our contemporary. He is alive, more alive than anyone, and “death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9). “Though[we] do not now see him” (1 Pet 1:8), he is here. He is close to us in his whole self, man and God. In his full power and love, he is here for us.
“Who is this?” asked the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And God has answered by raising him from the dead, the one who was crucified. And so, to quote Pope Francis, today is “the most beautiful and important day of history” (Urbi et Orbi, 9 April 2023).
Either this happened or it didn’t.
Either Peter and John and the women were deceived by wishful thinking, or they weren’t.
“God allowed him to be seen” after his Resurrection, says St Peter (Acts 10:40). Either those disciples did see him in those first forty days after the Resurrection or they did not.
Faith is not forced on us; it’s free.
If, though, we read the final chapters of the Gospels, read them with our hearts, and take up too the other references to the Resurrection in the New Testament,
if we realise how thin other explanations are,
if we consider the transformation of those men and women after that first Easter,
if we reflect on all that Resurrection implies, how it “fulfils Scripture” and our humanity,
if we think of the sheer persistence of the faith, how it resurrects again and again,
if we reflect on the Church’s two-thousand-year experience, how sins within and enmity without do not defeat it,
if we look at the saints and sense Christ’s life in them,
if we meet people who radiate his goodness in their ordinary lives,
if we feel his presence in the Eucharist, the body and blood of the risen One,
oh, then! –
it becomes quite possible and reasonable to believe.
Indeed, we will realise why the Holy Father, this morning, can quote St Isaac of Nineveh: “there is only one sin, not to believe in the power of the Resurrection.”
And with freedom, and sweetly, and “in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), we can add our voice: Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
“Do not be afraid”, the angel tells the women, “for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Mt 28:6).
And this faith will flower in us. It will bring the Living One into our lives (Rev 1:18). It will change our mind’s horizon – no longer just this life, no longer our death and, worse, the death of those we love. This faith will enable us to glimpse why this universe, and our planet and our world, might be as they are. Suddenly, all the good things of life find their meaning and place, as pointers and foretastes, sacraments even, of a risen life, and all the sad and dreadful things are somehow reduced in size, are not allowed to dominate the stage, and have the last word. It will dawn on us, too, that there is more to us than our talents and achievements or our wounds and bitterness, or our chemistry and genes . We will find a new freedom and joy burgeoning in us, another energy. We will have a reason for indestructible hope. We will see ourselves and see others, not just as disposable scraps of humanity, as those we sort into the categories of good or bad, enemy or friend. We will see them as places where Christ will resurrect, as creations of God’s love destined to flower with us in body, soul and spirit. And we will realise, like St Therese, that our vocation is love, and that no true love is ever lost.
Christ is risen! And with Eastern Christians, we add: He is truly risen!
When the New Testament shows us Peter and Paul, James and John, saying this, or Mary Magdalen clinging to him in the garden, or Thomas touching his wounds and saying, “My Lord and my God!”, or has the hearts of two disciples burning on the road to Emmaus while a stranger speaks to them, it was relaying an experience, the response to an event. The Resurrection isn’t a metaphor. It doesn’t merely mean Jesus’ legacy lives on. It doesn’t mean I might find it personally helpful to take him as a model. It means he is real. He knows me. He loves me. He has a life for me, and those I love, now and beyond the now. The Resurrection means it’s worth being human, worth being you or me.
Christ is risen! He is truly risen! We can say it today as a prayer, as a blessing – over ourselves, over the world, over the war-zones, over the people and places wrecked by natural disasters, over all our struggles.
Yesterday, in this cathedral and for the first time, some Greek (Eastern) Catholic Ukrainians were able to come together for a Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass) led by one of their priests. The first to arrive was a mother, with her young daughter. I have to say she looked unhappy, as well she might. I met her again after their Mass – it was Palm Sunday for them – and she was radiant. And next Saturday / Sunday, they will celebrate Easter here. And they will say what we can say today: Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
And so, in this radiance, let us now renew our baptismal promises!
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 9 April 2023