Our Holy Week and Easter celebrations this year are overshadowed by the Corona Virus pandemic that created severe restrictions, state of emergency, and uncertainties in our country, The Gambia and around the world. We earnestly wish it never happened, especially, at this most sacred and solemn period of the Church’s liturgical year. For, “Easter is not simply one feast among other feasts, but the Feast of feasts, and the Solemnity of solemnities.” (CCC nos. 1169). But as Christians and believers, we are convinced that God our creator and Father knows better than any of us why he allowed this unprecedented and troubling state of affairs to prevail around the world. As we try to understand the cause and reasons of this deadly disease and as we come to terms with its immediate and lasting effects on our human, spiritual, social, economic, and cultural life and values, I would like to deliver my message on the victory, blessings, and promise of Easter, that is, the Resurrection of Christ to all Gambians and all God’s people.
The resurrection of Christ from the dead and its outcome and impact on humanity and the world as a whole is not only a central article of faith in our Catholic profession of faith. It is also a historical and objective fact that is not conditioned, limited, and restricted by particular events, changes, and developments in every generation. The current situation of the Covid – 19 does not, therefore, prevent or affect the reality of Christ’s resurrection, our faith in him as our risen Lord, and our obligation in conscience to celebrate it. My message is intended, in that case, to assure all Christians, believers, and God’s people that with or without this pandemic, the resurrection of Christ at Easter still offers you victory over evil, sin, and death, blessings of peace and the Spirit of love, and a promise of your own resurrection to a new and eternal life. If we truly and fully shared in his passion, suffering, and death in our own times of trial, we will also share in his victory, blessings, and new life that he gained for us through his resurrection.
The power and influence of evil, sin, and death on humanity and the world at large was totally destroyed and abolished forever when Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day after he was crucified and buried. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent by God, the Father to redeem humanity from sin and death and to reconcile us with him so that we can fully share in his divine life. But instead of being recognized and accepted by God’s chosen people as their anointed Lord and savior, he was opposed, rejected, persecuted, and even killed out of jealousy and hatred by unbelievers, including his enemies, and the religious and political leaders at the time. They all thought they finally succeeded in eliminating the person they never wanted to hear his message of truth and reconciliation that was calling them to repentance and his commandment of love of God and neighbor. His own disciples even thought that was the end of the life story of their Lord and master so they were sad and downcast. But in accordance with Scriptures and God’s will, he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. He was raised to life by the power of God’s right hand and became the Lord of life for God’s people. His resurrection was, therefore, his final victory over the forces of hatred, evil, sin, and death. This victory still remains and it is what we are all invited to celebrate and also claim or adopt as our own as disciples and followers of the risen Lord.
In St. Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus that we will hear during the midnight Mass, he described how on the first day of the week, that is, Easter Sunday, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulcher or tomb where Jesus was buried. Then he narrated how they surprisingly encountered the angel of the Lord who assured them that Jesus is risen from the dead and then showed them the empty tomb. On their way to tell the disciples the joyful but incredible news of Christ’s resurrection, we are told, they met with Jesus himself. He greeted them right away and his first message to them was, “do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee and there they will see me.” This first statement of the risen Christ to the first women he encountered after his resurrection is extremely revealing and important for us, especially, in light of our current situation of uncertainty, fear, and distress that we are experiencing now. First of all, it reminds us of Jesus’ words of assurance to his disciples in times of uncertainty when they saw him walking on the sea in Mt. 14:27. Initially, they thought it was a ghost and they cried out in fear. But he immediately spoke up and ordered them to take heart, it is I; have no fear. Secondly, it encourages us to believe that the risen Christ understands our present troubles and fears and he is equally reassuring us not to be afraid of the unknown.
In addition to the women’s experience, I would also comment on St. Peter’s personal encounter with the risen Lord and its effect on his life. As a result of the situation St. Peter found himself in the post resurrection appearances of Jesus and the confusion and uncertainties at hand, he decided in Jn.21:3 to go fishing which was his original career, in order to, preoccupy himself. We too may be tempted like St. Peter in this passage to return or revert to our previous activities and habits that are now suspended by the Covid – 19 pandemic. Some of the disciples also joined St. Peter and they went out fishing but they caught nothing the whole night. But the risen Christ appeared to them in the morning and directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and, we are told, they caught so many fish that they could not haul the net to shore. Now when St. Peter was told by John, the beloved disciple that it is the Lord Jesus who appeared to them, he readily jumped into the sea and swam towards Jesus. He overcame his fears of the sea that he felt in Mt. 14:30-31 when he was walking towards Jesus and he hastened to encounter his risen Lord on the shore. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his appearance and presence among us in his glorified and Eucharistic Body, should equally enable us to overcome our former and present fears, obstacles, and doubts in life. This is all part of the victory that the risen Christ has gained for each and every one of us on account of his resurrection from the grave.
As a result of his resurrection that we celebrate today, the risen Christ has also bestowed on us the gift of his peace and his Spirit of love and truth. When his disciples were in lockdown mode in their house not because of any pandemic but for fear of the Jews, we are told in Jn. 21:19-23, that Jesus still stood among them and blessed them with his peace and his Spirit. He said to them twice, “peace be with. As the Father has sent me so I am sending you.” The disciples, on their part, were filled with joy when they saw their risen Lord. He then breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins, they are forgiven and if you retain sins they are retained.” Again, these are very insightful and relevant statements and message to us at this time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the midst of the Corona virus disease that has destabilized and cast a shadow of fear and death on our world. We should still celebrate in our hearts the resurrection of Christ from the dead and believe that he is present in our midst and has blessed us with his true peace and his Spirit of love and truth. These are two sacred and gracious gifts that we, like the disciples of Jesus, should be very glad and joyous to receive from him. May the peace and Spirit of the risen Christ dwell in our hearts, homes, nation, and the world and may we be inspired and committed to promote his peace, love, and truth in our communities and society today.
Finally, the resurrection of Christ we celebrate every Easter gives us new hope and offers us a promise for the resurrection of our own bodies on the last day that we profess in our Catholic creed. We are informed in nos. 665 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Christ’s resurrection and the risen Christ himself is the principle and source of our future resurrection … For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ, all shall be made alive.” Since Christ has conquered evil, sin, and death through his own death and resurrection, he has become the source of life for us who believe in him and all of humanity. He will, therefore, bring us to life again in him after our death. Our celebration of his resurrection at Easter should, therefore, inspire and encourage us not to be afraid of death. Rather, we should look forward to our own resurrection to new life based on the hope and promise that the risen Christ represents for all God’s people. The Corona virus pandemic and its risks and threats should not confuse and mislead us to lose faith, hope, and trust in the risen Christ and his promise of eternal life for all believers in him. We have reason, instead, to praise and thank God on Easter Sunday, the Easter Octave, Easter Season, and throughout the year for granting us victory over sin and evil, blessings of peace and his Spirit of love, and the promise of new life through the resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ from the dead. On that note, I wish the priests, religious, lay faithful of the Diocese, our Muslim friends and other believers, Gambians at home and abroad, and all God’s people around the world a solemn, blessed, meaningful, peaceful, and healthy Easter and Easter Season. May the risen Christ grant you and your families and friends his victory, peace, love, freedom, and blessings in abundance.
Your Servant in Christ,
Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy, C.S.Sp.
Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.