#Article (Archive)

Roman Catholic Easter Message 2008

Mar 25, 2008, 6:00 AM | Article By: Bishop Robert P. Ellison

 Roman Catholic Mission

1. I often find that when we come to celebrate this greatest solemnity of the mystery of Christ's life, that is, His resurrection from the dead, that it doesn't seem to touch me or to have the kind of impact that I would like it to have on my faith. There can be various reasons for this: - The many ceremonies of Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday can be long and tiring. - These ceremonies take us through the various stages leading up to the passion and death of Jesus. In this way, we are confronted by the very raw and concrete sufferings of Jesus - at all levels of his human nature. These are things with which we can identify so easily. - If we have not been as faithful to our Lenten calling to repent and believe in the Gospel as we had promised, then that too can prevent us from experiencing the new life of the Risen Lord in which we believe. - When we come to celebrate his Resurrection from the dead, how do we focus on this unique event in human history? Nobody was there to see what actually happened on that first Easter Sunday morning. - The four Evangelists give us various accounts of the empty tomb and the ways in which the Risen Lord appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days until He ascended into Heaven. And from these stories, we can also learn about how they came to terms with His presence among them in His glorified body. This, I think, can help us to grow in our faith in the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead.

2. Many film Directors have produced the story of Jesus of Nazareth. One of them in particular, has given us a special insight into the mystery of His Resurrection. The story begins with a scene in which we are looking at the disciples in the 'Upper Room' in Jerusalem - the very place where Jesus shared with them the Last Supper. In doing so, He also celebrated the Sacrament of the New Covenant, the giving of his own body and blood 'for you and for all'. They are still there early on the Sunday morning. The Video camera moves silently around the faces of the disciples - fear, guilt and dejection are evident. The doors are locked tightly. There is no sound until suddenly there is a knock on the door. It is clear that they are terrified - and understandably so. Have the authorities come now to arrest them? Finally, one of them opens the door slowly...It is Mary Magdalen. She tells them the news: 'They have taken His body away, and we don't know where they have put him'. There is no discussion - just signs of disbelief on their faces. Presumably, all kinds of thoughts have crossed their minds. But there is little indication that any might be thinking that Jesus has risen from the dead. The film Director leaves that to the audience - to us! Mary Magdalen then leaves the room - quietly. (A little later, Peter and John run to the tomb to verify the message of Mary Magdalen. They found everything exactly as Mary had reported. John believed, but said nothing. Peter saw - but still could not take that step to belief).

3. When Peter and John get back to the Upper. Room, the others are expecting some statement. But the silence continues....and the Video camera moves slowly to Peter. He is clutching a wooden support from floor to ceiling. He appears to be staring into space - totally unaware of the presence of the others in the room. John is looking at him intently, willing Peter to say something. Now John can no longer restrain himself and speaks directly to Peter: Do you believe? Then Peter slowly nods his head up and down. John goes further and says: Why? Finally,  Peter declares: 'Because the Master said so'.

This Video portrayal of the disciples coming to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is simply one interpretation of the Gospel stories. It seems to me to be quite faithful to them; and it seems to be the result of much study and reflection. Most of all, it shows us that coming to a deep faith in the Risen Lord is not something that is given to all at the same time. Likewise, it is not something given at once. 'No one can come to me unless the Father draws him'. Faith is a gift. When Mary Magdalen discovered the empty tomb, her first reaction was that the body of Jesus had been stolen. Then there is the story that when she ran to tell the disciples, she ran into a man whom she presumed was the gardener of the cemetery. It was only when Jesus called her by name,  that she fell on her knees and believed. When John and Peter ran to the tomb, 'John saw and believed'. Peter saw the same evidence in the empty tomb, but failed at that moment to put two and two together. It was only when he got back to the Upper Room with John, and when confronted by John's impatient questions, that he came to believe in his own way: 'Because the Master said so'. Peter had to make the 'bridge' between his lived experiences with Jesus of Nazareth and the Word that Jesus had spoken so insistently' (The Son of Man will suffer, die and rise -from the dead on the third day). And so it is that each of us grows in our faith in the Risen Lord in his own way and in his own time. This is an ongoing process as we try to make sense of our own lives in the light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter was slower to believe than John. Was this due to Peter's failure to own up to the fact that he was indeed a disciple of Jesus when confronted even by a servant girl in the courtyard of the praetorium and then ran away altogether? Whereas John followed the Master right up to Calvary? And still, Jesus confirmed Peter in the role of leadership as promised: 'Peter, I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and once you have been converted, you must then confirm your brothers and sisters in the faith'.