Easter: Victory over death

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Every Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate that death has been conquered by Our Savior, Jesus Christ. While this truth should be a cause for joy and a source of peace, it is a truth we may have grown accustomed to after 2,000 years. In that sense, it is one that we may overlook or take for granted, especially when the trappings of Easter Sunday can tempt us to treat the greatest of Holy Days into more of a holiday. Easter, and the mystery we celebrate on that day, is meant to be so much more.

 

When we lose someone dear to us or when we contemplate our own mortality, we experience the sadness and even the fear of separation that death from those we hold dear. We are tempted to see death as an end.

 

On that first Easter, the third day after Jesus was laid in the tomb, His disciples must have felt that Christ’s mission was over. No one had ever defeated death. It had claimed everyone.

 

Two women — Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph — went to Christ’s tomb in the darkness before the first hint of dawn’s light. Suddenly, an earthquake announced that a great event was occurring. Then, an angel arrayed in brightness explained what it was: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said” (Mt 28:5-6).

 

The angel noted that Jesus had foretold His resurrection. One such occurrence took place when He was descending Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John after His Transfiguration. At that time, Jesus told them to remain silent about what they had seen on the mountain until He had “risen from the dead.” In what seems like an absurdity today, Mark tells us that the Apostles did not understand what “rising from the dead” could possibly mean (Mk 9:9-10).

 

Christians today know that Jesus rose from the dead, but this was not the case with His Apostles. While they had seen Jesus raise others from the dead — Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17), and the daughter of Jarius (Luke 8:40-65) — how could He raise Himself from His own tomb? Even after witnessing these greatest miracles, His disciples could not imagine Christ’s resurrection.

 

The experience of the majestic angel left the two Marys in awe, yet overjoyed. The impossible now seemed probable, and moments later, indisputable, for they themselves encountered Our Risen Lord in the flesh. The lifeless body they had seen placed in the tomb on Good Friday (Mt 27:61) was now before them, full of life. As they embraced Jesus and paid Him homage, perhaps they realized that the world had changed forever. Likely, however, it took much longer for that reality to set in.

 

Today, we are the children of that reality, gathering each Easter to celebrate the event that redefined life and death. The empty tomb means that death is no longer the end, but is instead a new beginning. Jesus, the Light of the World, has promised that He, and anyone who places their faith in Him, can never be extinguished. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

 

Let us seek to draw deeper into this mystery of faith, meditating on it and praying for the faith that allows the resurrection to be the source of our hope and joy. May we rejoice anew this Easter and forever more that Jesus Christ has risen from the tomb and defeated death for us! Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017