“Accompany us then, on this vigil and you will know what it is to dream! You will then know how marvellous it is to live threatened with Resurrection. To dream awake, to keep watch asleep, to live while dying and to already know oneself resurrected!” — Julia Esquivel, Nos Han Amenazado de Resurrección: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan, Brethern Press, 1982
On Easter morning every Christian should ask, “What does it mean to believe in the resurrection?”
Let’s try to avoid too simple recitations of the Creed or racking our memory banks for verses of the catechism as we consider this defining question of our faith. Rather, let’s sit with this question and try to answer from deep within our own hearts. The church, in her wisdom, offers the readings of Easter morning as guides to our reflection.
Understanding the significance of the resurrection is to accept that it has meaning today, in 2018. Jesus, once dead and buried, has not gone away. His presence is forever in this world, and can be present in our lives, too.
In John’s Gospel account, the disciples did not understand the significance of that first Easter morning, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” The first step in the journey of comprehending the resurrection starts in the emptiness of the tomb.
There were John and Peter, in the dark, fearful and unsure of what had happened, searching for the meaning of it all. They were probably ashamed that they had not even gone to bury their friend and teacher, Jesus, leaving that task to Joseph of Arimathea. All the hopes they harboured of Jesus being the true Messiah seemed to have been dashed — dead and buried with his own corpse.
If we are honest with ourselves, our own lives and perhaps even our own spiritual journeys have also undergone similar stages. Most of us can admit to having lived some aspect of emptiness in our own lives. Perhaps we’ve experienced the ending of a marriage or special relationship, or a failure in a hoped-for career advancement or business venture. Of course, this emptiness can hit home harder in moments of finality: when we’ve lived through the loss of a loved one (such as the disciples had just done).
In such times of suffering and loss, times when gloom seems to have surrounded us, we long for resurrection, for a return to life, for release from the hollowness of defeat and darkness.
Yes, we humans are sinners! Yes, there are times when I have not lived up to all I can be. Even this Lent there have been moments when I’ve not kept my promise to reform my usual practices, increase time spent in prayer and almsgiving — but that can’t be the end of the story.
I can remember losing friends to the violence of civil war when I lived in Nicaragua, and worse, losing other loved ones from El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, who were taken by paramilitary forces and “disappeared.” Only later did we learn that such wonderful human beings had been made to suffer abusive humiliations and torture. In those dark days, writers like Nobel Prize-winning poet Julia Esquivel tried to help us live through such moments with grace. Her words challenged us to end our fears, and “live threatened by Resurrection,” that is, recognize that all remains in God’s hands, and that we can go on, doing what must be done. She encouraged us to believe that those who had fallen “have threatened us with Resurrection because they are more alive than ever before, because they transform our agonies and fertilize our struggle . . .”
Jesus’ torture and public humiliation and execution did not end the Good News. In Luke’s telling of the resurrection of Jesus, two men in dazzling clothes spoke to the women who first entered the empty tomb, saying, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk 24.5). This is an excellent question we must continue to ask ourselves today.
If we have faith in the One we refer to as the God of Life, we should be searching for this God in places that offer transformational life and new energy to the world. In Jewish society of that time, women had low status and could not serve as legal witnesses — yet Mary was first to have come to the tomb, and in Mark’s account, the first to have seen the risen Jesus (Mark 16.11). Preferential love for those whom society disdains remains a crowning expression of our resurrected Lord. Offering life to those who need our merciful presence and action become signs of our belief in the teacher who rose from the dead.
It took time for the disciples to understand the resurrection, to have their eyes opened to what had happened. Let’s prayerfully ask that our own eyes may be opened to this miracle’s life-giving power in our own lives this Easter.
Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.