Rejoicing in our Easter Faith – Fr Enda Murphy
‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?’ Saint Paul’s no-nonsense rhetorical question to the Christians of Rome is crying out for the obvious answer: ‘Of course we do!’ Yet the very fact that Paul needs to pose such a question hints that he feels the Romans, by the way they are living, cannot answer the question sincerely. These words, which we will hear during the Paschal Vigil, are now addressed to Christians who gather in our parishes, as the great Triduum of Christ’s Passion and Passover reaches its climax. Thus the question goes a-begging. What answer can we give? Can this Easter be a time when we can plunge once more into the mystery of the Cross and so experience what it is, even now, to taste the glory of the resurrection?
During the Synod on the Word of God which was held in Rome in 2012, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, who was then the Archbishop of Ranchi in India, told a story about a young Hindu boy who had gotten to know some Catholic priests through education provided by the Church. He was an enquiring young fellow who wanted to know more about what these Christians believed. So, one of the priests gave him a copy of the Gospels and told him to go off and read them and then come back with his questions. The boy went away and came back flabbergasted and with an air of recrimination. He wanted to be sure he had got something right, so he demanded clarification. ‘Jesus is risen from the dead?’ he asked; ‘I mean, really risen from the dead?’ The priests were pleased to see how animated he was and calmly, even nonchalantly replied, ‘Yes!’ ‘Why didn’t you tell me’ the boy shouted at them, astonished that this was not the first thing they would have announced!
Why didn’t you tell me? Is it possible that somehow we have neglected letting our people know that one most important and life-changing thing, that Jesus the Crucified is risen from the dead? History tells us that at the end of every speech he gave in the Roman Senate, Cato the Elder would conclude by saying ‘Carthage must be destroyed!’ He wasn’t going to let people forget or ignore what he felt was the most important issue. It strikes me that every time we speak, preach, teach or engage in debate, our first words should be ‘Jesus is risen from the dead’, if not said out loud then at least to ourselves so that we know what underpins our celebration of the Paschal Mystery and why it is we invite others to come and share this mystery with us. It’s good news; good news is attractive, good news invites people to share in the story, Rejoicing in our Easter Faith and what a story we have to tell over these Paschal days.
The even more wonderful truth is that the baptised are already a part of that story. As Paul reminds us, we have been plunged into the mystery of Christ’s death, we have passed through the gates of the underworld with him and now we share in the newness of life that Saint Paul speaks of.
For us to enter into the fullness of our baptismal faith, a change of perspective will help. Rather than looking into the empty tomb, let’s turn around and look out from the tomb, from the perspective of the crucified and risen Lord. This year we hear Matthew’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb. An angel descends, there is an earthquake, he rolls away the stone, sits on it and leaves those guarding the tomb for dead. But amid all this noise and the brilliance of his apparel, we should remember that this is not the resurrection. That has already happened in the dead of night. God’s creative word was spoken into the belly of the earth and by the power of the Spirit, this Jesus who was crucified was raised to life. The Slovenian theologian, Nataša Govekar, writes, ‘The Christian, in virtue of baptism, has already left death behind and no longer looks at the world toward the tomb, but from the open tomb out. From the moment Christ entered the tomb the earth itself was changed: it became the holy ground that guards and gives growth even to our bodies. It has been fertilized by a grain of wheat, an incorruptible seed and it is on the point of giving birth to risen humanity.’1
Peter Chrysologus said that the angel didn’t role away the stone in order to let Jesus out! That had already happened. Rather the stone was rolled away to help our faith. The man with the golden tongue goes on: ‘Pray, brothers and sisters, so that the angel might now descend and roll away all the hardness of our hearts, open our blocked feelings and witness to the fact that Christ has risen, even in our souls, because just as the heart in which Christ lives and reigns is like heaven, so the breast in which Christ is yet enclosed dead and buried is like a tomb.’2
Life according to our baptism, as announced by Paul, leads us to be grafted into Christ. Our sinfulness and suffering is crucified with him. This pouring, or better yet, plunging, into the baptismal water thrusts us into the bowels of the earth and we arise to be clothed and anointed as God’s new creation. ‘O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.’3
At a time when the flame of faith seems to be wavering, and the Lord’s disciples are inclined to remain closed in the safety of what they know and what works for them, at a time when many see nothing but ‘ruin and calamity in the present conditions of human society,’4 now more than ever, we need to look out from that open tomb and go into the world telling people that the crucified one is risen as he said he would. This is the outward-looking, missionary approach proposed by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. The joy of the Gospel is born from the announcement of the resurrection. The joy of the Gospel is made flesh in the lives of the Lord’s disciples who carry this message into the world.
To live our baptismal calling to its fullest extent, we also need to realise that baptism does not act as a sort of anaesthetic, shielding us from the pain and heartbreak of this world. It does not do that, but it gives our pain and heartbreak a new context, an infinite horizon. That is why we should pay close attention to the words with which the whole great event of the Triduum opens: ‘We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.’5
While we journey with the Lord in these Paschal days, we will see him break bread, pour wine, wash feet. We will see him handed over to a kangaroo court and be condemned to die. We will watch him in the long hours of his dying and see him placed in the tomb and with the women we will go there early in the morning and hear something marvellous: Jesus the Crucified is risen! We should glory in his Cross, for all has been changed. Baptised into his death and resurrection, we now have a God’s eye view from the tomb, a crucified and resurrected perspective. ‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?’
1 Nataša Govekar, La vita in Cristo, Lipa, ROMA 2015, 14.
2 Peter Chrysologus, Sermons, 75:4.
4 Pope John XXIII, Opening Speech to the Second Vatican Council.
5 Entrance Antiphon, Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Fr Enda Murphy is a priest of the Diocese of Kilmore and is currently an official at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
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