by Br Julian McDonald cfc
The angel said to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised up just as he said…” Matthew 28, 1-10
We’re all familiar enough with the Gospels to know that they are not four different accounts of Jesus’ life story. Rather they are more like theological attempts to identify who Jesus was and what his mission was all about. The gospel readings for both the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are designed to demonstrate the dramatic way in which God vindicated all that Jesus had said and done during his public ministry. In other books of the New Testament, we hear people like Peter and Paul attesting to the fact that Jesus spent his public ministry demonstrating in action the love, compassion and mercy of God. For instance, in the Acts of the Apostles there is a story of Peter being invited to visit the home of Cornelius, a gentile. After the preliminary greetings, Peter addresses Cornelius and his extended family: “I now understand that God has no favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who respects God and does what is right is acceptable to God…God had anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, he went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of evil…Now we are witnesses to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judea and in Jerusalem itself; and they killed him by hanging him on a tree; yet on the third day God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen” (Acts 10, 20-48).
The events of Jesus’ life that we have relived during this last week confirm the truth of Peter’s assertion: “I now understand that God has no favourites.” The consequences of Jesus’ humanity were that he not only lived within all the limits of time and space but that he was prone to be a victim of the prejudices and jealousies that we human beings resort to when we feel threatened, or believe that others are trying to harm us or undermine our safety, status and importance. Consequently, Jesus was targeted by leaders for whom self-interest was number one priority. When they moved in on him, he felt fear as we feel fear, he experienced rejection and betrayal from those closest to him and from whom he surely expected better. He even asked the question that is currently on the lips of countless people living in fear of Covid-19, – Christians and other people of faith and those of no faith – “Where is God?” When he felt totally abandoned, he cried in desperation from the Cross: “My God, why have you abandoned me?”
There was no special treatment for Jesus. Having embraced the human condition, he committed himself to undergo the same isolation, confusion, doubt, fear, loneliness, injustice and vindictiveness that we all experience from time to time. But the miracle of Easter that we celebrate today confirms that death is not the end, that there is more, that there is something far better awaiting us. His confusion, suffering, fear and doubt, as well as the hope that were almost extinguished in him, were embraced by God’s love. And Easter proclaims and demonstrates that God’s love is stronger than death. Just as Jesus identified with us in our pain, rejection, fear, suffering and death, so, too, does his being raised from death constitute a promise that we, too, will rise from death to a kind of life that goes far beyond what we are able to imagine.
Jesus identified with each of us as brother, friend and companion on the journey of life, with all its upheavals, disappointments, tragedies, and even joys and successes. While we cannot imagine what resurrection after death might look like, we know that we are still capable of fitting into our limited heads and tiny hearts the conviction that Jesus Christ really did suffer, die and rise. He loved us enough to identify with us to the point of sharing in our death. And therein lies the guarantee that we will eventually come to share in his life. So, at Easter we shout “Alleluia” – for Jesus, for ourselves, for all those who have gone before us and for all who will come after, because God’s love embraces the whole world. God’s love knows no limits, it embraces the whole of creation. Perhaps the only thing that will crimp and cramp it is our ignorance, our prejudice, our reluctance to open our hearts to it. On that score, I sometimes wonder how Jesus dealt with the frustrations he experienced when he saw that his disciples just didn’t get it. Surely he sought an outlet among friends like Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and looked for support and encouragement from them. Sadly, the Gospels are silent on matters such as these.
There’s another forceful message for us in the gospel reading of the Easter Vigil, based on what Jesus said to the two Marys when he encountered them on their way to bringing to the disciples the message the angel had given them at the empty tomb. Jesus urged them not to be afraid, not to delay: “Don’t hang on too tightly, don’t be afraid, go and tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee and that I’ll meet them there.” In calling the disciples “my brothers” Jesus demonstrated that recriminations and attributing blame were farthest from his thoughts. But there was also the implication that there was work still to be done. As disciples of the risen Christ, we are not meant to be mere observers of his resurrection. The focus of our lives is to be agents of resurrection in the lives of people we encounter. We bring resurrection into the lives of others and, indeed, to our own lives to the extent that we reach out in care, compassion, forgiveness, affirmation, love and encouragement to everyone who comes into our daily lives. The empty tomb is a challenge to us to bring resurrection to others. Moreover, if we care to open our eyes, we will see resurrection at work in the care given so selflessly by physicians, health-care workers and service providers across the globe during this time of the covid-19 pandemic. We will see it too in the courage of very ordinary people.
In this context, I share with you the story of Mathew Makot. This young man is now a practicing lawyer in Brisbane, Australia. Mathew was born in Uganda but, as a child, came with his family to South Sudan as war refugees. As an 8-year old, he saw his father killed in the civil war that had erupted in the Sudan. At the age of 9, he was forced into military service. By the age of 10, he had been promoted to the rank of Captain because he was multilingual by then, and able to drive a truck. He transported troops to war zones and brought civilians back to safety. Because he carried a rifle, he, too, became a target. The fact that he was shot in one leg and knifed was what ironically saved his life. He ended up in hospital where he came to the notice of officials from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Several years later, they arranged for him to come to Australia where he was welcomed by the Principal and whole school community of St Patrick’s College Shorncliffe. I met him during his final year of school when he very generously accepted an invitation to participate in a retreat with a group of students about to start university. What struck us is that there was not an ounce of hate, anger or self-pity in this young man. The message he left us was: “I want to go back to South Sudan one day to help bring peace to my country and my people. Meanwhile, please work hard for peace and justice yourselves.” What a wonderful agent of resurrection!