On Good Friday, we commemorate Jesus’ Crucifixion and heard the account of his Passion from the Gospel according to John. When he was crucified it appeared that Jesus’ mission and ministry had ended in failure. While he had entered Jerusalem to shouts proclaiming him king a few days earlier, on Good Friday we recall that he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death on a cross. Even most of the Apostles, his closest followers and friends, lost all hope and abandoned him. After Jesus was arrested and crucified, the disciples probably felt that their world was falling apart. However, three days after his crucifixion, on that first Easter morning, a seemingly impossible event restored hope: the disciples found the tomb empty; Jesus had risen from the dead. Today, Easter Sunday, is the day we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection. In the Gospel reading (John 201-18), Mary Magdalene goes out to the tomb where they had placed Jesus’ body on Good Friday and is shocked to find it empty. She runs to the disciples, including Peter, and tells them that someone has stolen Jesus’ body. When Peter and another disciple (possibly the Apostle John) hear this news, they run to the tomb and confirm that it is, indeed, empty. We are told that the disciples accept Mary’s explanations because they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The gospel passage continues, telling us that Mary stays by the tomb weeping after the other disciples have left. Jesus suddenly appears to Mary, who is overcome with joy. She once again goes to the disciples and tells them I have seen the Lord. After this, the disciples finally began to understand the Scriptures and came to realize that Jesus’ death, far from being a hopeless tragedy, was an act of God’s infinite love, culminating in the Resurrection, which revealed that sin and death had been defeated.
To begin to understand this, let’s look briefly at a summary of the Bible’s message. Out of love, God created humanity to live in perfect harmony with him, with creation, and with each other. God wanted human beings to choose to love him, so he gave them free will. Unfortunately, they chose to go against God’s will and fell into sin and disobedience which created a barrier between God and humanity. But God didn’t give up and, through Abraham, King David, and the prophets,,he continues to reveal himself and his love to humanity, calling them to turn away from sin and promising to send a savior to redeem the world and bring all nations to himself.
The culmination of God’s revelation and the fulfillment of his promise was the Incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ: John 1:14 says The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth and John 3:16-17 says, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. Jesus Christ, God the Son became a human being and suffered death on the cross in order to fully reveal God and His unparalleled love to humanity and to save all of us from sin and death. After Jesus’ Resurrection, his disciples came to see his death as an act of love, a glorious victory. This is how the cross, which was once an instrument of torture and execution, became a symbol of life and hope. Our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, which were marred by sin, are now restored by Jesus, God the Son himself! We can now have a relationship with God, experience His love, and share eternal life with Him in heaven. This is the central message of our faith and it is the reason that Easter, even more so than Christmas, is the most important Christian holiday.
This is the central message of our faith and it is the reason that Easter, even more so than Christmas, is the most important Christian holiday.
So what? This sounds great, but how does it apply to us? If we’re truly Christian, as most of us claim to be, the celebration of Easter, the core of the gospel message of love, new life, and salvation, is infinitely important. You see, Jesus’ entire message was about love: God’s love for us, the need to love God in return, and the importance of modeling and sharing that love in our own lives. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, the discussion of the two greatest commandments in the Synoptic Gospels (Love God, love your neighbor), Jesus’ new commandment in John’s gospel (Love one another as I love you), and the Crucifixion and Resurrection all reveal God’s love for us and his desire that we love him and, in turn, share his love with one another. We see that Jesus died in order to save us and reveal God’s love for us. His death and Resurrection confirmed this love and serves as a sort of litmus test the rest of his teaching. He claimed to have the authority to forgive sins, he predicted his own death and Resurrection, and he claimed to be equal to God. If he had died but had not risen from the dead, these claims, along with the rest of Jesus’ teachings could and would be called into serious question and we would still be enthralled to sin and death.
However, since Jesus did rise from the dead, revealing God’s love for us through his sacrifice, we should ask ourselves, How will we respond to this love? Jesus told us to love one another as he loved us. During Lent, we may have spent more time in prayer, sacrificed our time or things we enjoy, and gave to those in need in order to grow closer to Jesus Christ. Now that Lent is over, hopefully we will continue to grow closer to him. In doing so, we will have a deeper experience of his love and should, as a consequence, want to share this love with others. I was speaking with one of my colleagues the other day about Jesus’ call to love. He suggested that some people focus so much on being pro-life which that they forget to be pro-love. While we both agreed that being pro-life is important, he emphasized that being pro-love would embrace everything that is entailed in the Pro-life movement and go even farther.
To me, being pro-love would mean living out the joy of the Resurrection and reality of our salvation by loving others as Jesus loves us. He put aside selfishness, self-interest, greed, and worldly desires (eg he rejected political power when it was offered to him) and emptied himself, sacrificing his life so that we might have life and have it abundantly. This kind of love is radical; it’s life changing. Let’s follow Jesus’ example, emptying ourselves, living as people who have been set free from sin and death. We can put aside our own self-interest and desires in order to love him and show everyone in our midst, especially the poor and vulnerable, the amazing love we have experienced through him. Doing this should transform our relationships, our actions, and, in the end, the world around us.
Think about this, in our world, we are often see clear examples of hatred: one group blames another group for society’s problems and their own struggles. Eventually, hateful words or even violence are thrown back and forth. Hatred is, in a sense, selfish. It looks out for one’s own interest while disregarding and even opposing the good of others. This hatred is frustrating and, at times, seems impossible to overcome. Remember, the disciples felt their situation was insurmountable after Jesus’ Crucifixion. However, his Resurrection revealed that God’s love makes the impossible possible. If we begin love others as Jesus loved us, perhaps we could overcome this hatred and eventually defeat it just as Jesus defeated sin and death. Wouldn’t that be an amazing victory?