On this Easter morning we celebrate what for us Christians is the feast of all feasts, Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord, the foundation of our Christian faith. The Lord is truly risen and he lives for ever. He has restored life to us out of the darkness of sin and death.
Our life is changed because Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh like ours. Out of love for us, He underwent the brutal and ignominious death of a criminal. But God has raised him from the dead to new life. He is the first fruits of the new life which will be extended to all of us.
Those who corruptly used their power to conspire in the condemnation of Jesus felt that with their power and violence they could put an end to the life of Jesus definitively. They felt that they had removed Jesus from the scene of history which was; they felt, safely in their hands.
The resurrection of Jesus has shown us their folly. The fact of the resurrection means that evil can never triumph definitively. Jesus rises to new life which never ends. We too are called to share in that new life and are called to witness to that new life in the way we live. Saint Paul tells us that since we have been brought back to true life with Christ, our thoughts must no longer be purely earthly thoughts. The new life of resurrection opens new horizons for humankind.
All of us can celebrate that new life in Christ which can touch and change our hearts, whether we are new Christians or Christians since our birth, whether we are filled with zeal and commitment or whether our faith is tired or uncertain or troubled. Christ is truly risen; he is truly risen for us.
Light and darkness, good and evil, however, still struggle within our hearts and in our world. Each of us knows the darkness of sinfulness that hides within our own hearts; each of us knows the darkness of doubt and lack of hope that is within us. The message of resurrection reminds us that doubt and despair can be overcome.
The Gospel reading begins with darkness. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb first thing in the morning, while it was still dark. She sets out on the first day of the week. Here we see the link with the narrative of creation which we have heard at the beginning of last night’s Easter Vigil. The first day of creation was the day in which the darkness was dispelled and light was created. Now, again on the first day, the light of new life appears. The resurrection of Jesus brings to new fulfilment that moment of the creation of light.
The dawn of the first Easter was no ordinary dawn. It was the dawn which concluded the terrible night of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering. It was the dawn which closed one of the darkest nights in human history when Jesus, the son of God, was handed over to sinful men, symbol of all the evil that marks human history. Evil still exists in our world. The darkness continues in our day to day battle with the light.
The fact of the resurrection means that evil can never triumph definitively. This morning, however, as we celebrate resurrection and life, men and women languish around the world in war and civil unrest. Men and women and helpless children languish in the darkness of poverty and hunger and exploitation. As we gather in peaceful prayer to reflect on the mystery of life, in dark corners of our city, of our country and of our world people are planning criminal undertakings and violence.
These advocates of violence, like those who condemned Jesus, feel somehow that they have in their hands the power to achieve their sordid plans definitively. They feel that violence or economic power puts them in control, that they can control the lives of others as they wish. However, violence only generates further violence and a culture of untruth generates more untruth. Violence and untruth imprison rather than liberate.
The message of Easter which we proclaim challenges–head on — those in our society who espouse political violence, criminal violence or the violence of corrupt exploitation. It challenges those who fall into the purposeless violence we sadly encounter, almost daily, on our streets.
The only thing that we can say definitively about violence is that violence belongs definitively to the sphere of darkness. It is life and integrity that lead to peace and hope. The dramatic event of the resurrection of Jesus is not something that engenders fear, but one of awe and joy. The angel says to the women: “There is no need for you to be afraid”. It is the light of the risen Christ which removes fear: “Do not be afraid”, Jesus tells the women to whom he appears, and He tells us also.
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb at the first possible opportunity. She goes out of her love and respect for the Lord who had rescued her from the dark times of her own life. She does not know what to expect. She goes out, possibly to anoint a dead body, and finds that the body is not there. The angel shows her the place where Jesus lay, but he is no longer there. Jesus will never be found in the places of the culture of death. Christians must be witnesses to life; they must protect life at it weakest moments, they must work to bring meaning to the life of those who have lost hope and direction, the must defend those whose life is held hostage to exploitation, they must be advocates against all that degrades human life. Christians must engage in public and political life and economic life in fostering a society where the lives and gifts of all can flourish and not just the privileged few.
The tomb is empty. Resurrection, however, is not simply about the historical fact of an empty tomb, it is about Jesus who has left that tomb. Jesus appears to his disciples showing that his life has changed; he is no longer the prisoner of those with self-centred earthly desires, he is no longer a prisoner even of death itself. He is risen to newness of life where truth and love and freedom prevail.
The new life of the resurrection is found and nourished in the Church. The Church, in its sacraments, is the community within which we realise how our entire life is embraced by the loving care of God. Last night, across the Archdiocese of Dublin, we had the joy of welcoming over 50 newly baptised into the life of the Church.
The first apparitions of Jesus are not to Peter and John but to Mary Magdalene. She represents essentials of the Christian life of each of us. She is filled with love for the Lord, a love which can overcome her natural feeling that her hopes about Jesus had been dispelled.
When Peter and John arrive at the tomb — in a significant gesture — John, who had arrived first and who was the beloved disciple of Jesus, hesitates and allows Peter to be the first to enter. As Catholic Christians we also recognise that the role of Peter in the Church is one which was indicated by Jesus himself and has been part of the self-understanding of the Church over the centuries. We remember today Pope Benedict in his mission to strengthen the faith of all. The Christian is never a Christian on his or her own. A Christian faith community is never an isolated faith community. It is never just a local Church or an Irish Church. We celebrate the liturgy always in that faith that comes from the Apostles, always in union with Peter and with the whole Church.
We pray for the Church on this day of Easter which is the foundation of our faith. We pray that the Church will be renewed in living a life of resurrection, uncompromised by the forces of darkness, drawing from “the teaching of scripture”, as the Gospel reading noted, faith in what the resurrection means and bringing the fruits of that faith into the life of the world around us.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin