Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Vigil and Sunday) “The Firstborn from the Dead” PDF Version
Easter homily 2018
Jesus Christ was not the first person in history to rise from the dead. The Old Testament tells us that the prophets Elijah and Elisha raised people from the sleep of death, while the New Testament tells us of countless people that Christ raised from death’s dark bonds, most importantly Lazarus after 4 days in the tomb. St. Matthew also records for us the otherworldly events that took place at the moment of Our Lord’s death, most notably that many saints were raised from their tombs and began to walk through the streets of Jerusalem.
Saintly commentators on the Bible have said these individuals includes the prophets of the Old Testament and St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, of whom many saints such at St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales proposed that St. Joseph was also assumed body and soul into heaven, meaning he already knows the fullness of resurrected life that Our Lord and Holy Mary already enjoy.
So if Jesus was not the first person to be raised from the dead, what makes His resurrection so unique and important? Other religions and myths contain stories of godlike beings undergoing some reunion of their body and spirit, so why do Christians place such unique importance on the resurrection of Christ?
While others had been raised from the dead, worked through the hands of a saintly prophet or through the power of Our Lord’s Cross, and while many religions and myths claim their deities somehow returned from death to life, it is in Jesus Christ alone that we encounter He who raised Himself from the dead and as St. Paul once told the Christians of Rome “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.”
In St John’s Gospel, Our Lord told His opponents that He had the power to lay down His life and the power to raise it up again, and no other will ever possess this sublime power, that ability to not simply reanimate one’s flesh, but to totally transformed Oneself to have a new Spirit filled body that cannot die, and exists as the model and pattern after which all will be raised on the day of the universal resurrection.
Thus, Our Lord’s Resurrection simply cannot be just one more aspect of our faith in Him, but must be the centre point from which we believe and understand who is the person of Jesus Christ. Without His resurrection, our faith in Him is futile and would leave us to believe in His teachings but without the authority that the Resurrection brings to make them sole means through which one can obtain salvation; for deny His Resurrection is deny ourselves the gift of Eternal Life.
And so my dear brothers and sisters in the Risen Christ, it is paramount for us to live our Christian lives in such a way that we testify to others that the Resurrection matters and must shape our entire outlook on life and death.
May I be so bold as to propose that because fewer and fewer people believe in the Resurrection, it has caused many to live with a profound fear of death, yet with the willingness to embrace it when it is deemed that life is no longer worth living? St. Alphonsus Liguori taught that two reasons people find bitterness in death is attachment to the things of this world and the uncertainty of salvation.
When someone is overly attached to this world, they can seek a life where one puts their joy and meaning in being forever young, healthy, beautiful, successful and they endure a paralyzing fear of pain and suffering. But once youth fades, health declines, beauty diminishes, success falters, pain increases and suffering turns to misery, the temptation to end one’s life increases, since one is so attached to the good things of this world that they cannot carry on without them.
Faith in the Resurrection tells us that all good we experience in life will be returned onto us with infinitely greater abundance when we rise again with Christ. But to have no faith in the Resurrection means one can see little hope for this earthly body to be restored to its former happiness, or even begin to conceive that how we are now is but a shadow of the glorified resurrected body that each of us can obtain through faith in Christ.
So too when one has no hope in the afterlife, and where one believes that we simply ceases to exist once we breath our last to dissolve into a vast nothingness, where there are no torments of hell, purifying fires of purgatory, everlasting beatitude in heaven and the future resurrection of all humanity and creation, then one can live in such a way that we enjoy and endure whatever comes to pass but with banal certainty that nothing comes after death but infinite darkness.
Yet again, without faith in the Resurrection that Jesus Christ rose from the dead to destroy death and give us the gift of eternal life, while someone might choose to live life to its fullest and endure it to the bitter end, be it a peaceful passing in one’s sleep, a wretched death marked by anguish or pain, or the false compassion that comes from death being administered through the hands of health care professional, the end result of each scenario is for many the grim lack of hope that nothing comes next, and then the frightful realization that once death comes than, in fact, something does come next: eternal torment, necessary purification, everlasting joy and the future Resurrection of life and the Resurrection of condemnation.
The task of evangelizing our culture will in part succeed or fail through our willingness to teach others the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection and our own eventual rising from the dead. Let us not be afraid of how people will think of us for sharing this great mystery of our faith. Let us be taught to be fools for Christ for doing so. But above all else, let us allow the joy of the Lord’s Resurrection to enter more deeply enter into our hearts, giving us hope in the new life to come, faith in continuing to live our Christian lives well and charity in sharing this great truth with all who will listen.