“When he had said this, he showed them his hands and side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [John 20:20]
My dear friends in Christ, I greet you all with the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ, our victor and ruler who conquered sin and death; Peace be with you!
The month of March this year 2016, indisputably has a pride of place in our Liturgical calendar as we celebrate the greatest feast of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus, who himself has brought us to this special season once again that we may duly participate in the feast.
We are an Easter people, a people marked by joyfulness informed by the Lord’s defeat of sin and death. His victory becomes our very own victory, his death means our redemption and his resurrection means our salvation. This is what we convincingly say at the proclamation of the mystery of faith during our Eucharistic liturgy. During the season of Lent, the period of the great forty days fast, we were like “those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing”. Nonetheless, on that great dawn, the Easter morning, we “come home with shouts of joy, carrying sheaves” [Psalm 126:5-6]. What an awesome revolution which every genuine Christian cannot help but also be transformed by it since all is changed: darkness to light, doubt to faith, selfishness to generosity, despair to hope, sin to grace, and death to eternal life.
In response to this eternal change, we sing the ancient hymn of the Church which captures the depth of the mystery we celebrate at Easter, the Exultet: “Exult, let them exult… Be glad let earth be glad as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of His glory…”
Be glad let earth be glad as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [Gen. 1:1], the totality of creation which included all things seen and unseen, material as well as spiritual. The book of Genesis pictures a newly created world in a state of primeval chaos; submerged in water and shrouded in darkness, it is a place unfit for habitation and life until the creative word by divine utterance brings life and order into it. However, the account of Genesis chapter 3 acquaints us with an even greater chaos, when man and woman rebelled against the Creator and brought sin and misery into the world. As Genesis presents it, the immediate effects of the rebellion include shame, strife, suffering and separation from the Lord. As we would expect a baby, used to the habitat and temperature of the mother’s womb, to cry when born into the strange environment of the world, so also creation groans under the curse of Gen 3:17, cloaked with gloom and darkness.
In the light of this, do we understand the clarion call in the ancient hymn of the Church to earth, to exult as she is unveiled of the gloom, strife, barrenness, darkness, that concealed her. This world which the Creator had created in love through the Word is now re-created from within through the Incarnation, the Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, of the Word made Flesh. The One whom the Scriptures proclaim as the first born of the new creation burst forth from the tomb and began the New Creation since before now, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” [Romans 8:19-23]. Our faith in the Resurrection assures us that everything of beauty and love and creativity lasts forever.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of His glory…
Another call for joy is directed to Holy Mother Church because she had been clothed with the splendor of Christ’s glory. In the Resurrection appearances, the disciples experienced Jesus in their midst. The same Jesus who had walked with them now again touched their lives, and spoke and ate with them. But Jesus was radically changed. Clearly, Jesus had not simply come back to life like Lazarus did but he lives the glorious life beyond death. The Gospel of John vividly captures the moment when the apostles, upon whom the foundation of the Church is laid, encounters the risen Lord, in his glorified body and upon seeing him they could not but be filled with joy [John 20:20]. When John states that the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, he means, for one thing, that they rejoiced because they had become convinced that this truly was Jesus. Their joy, however, was something more than the spontaneous relief of a reunion with one thought to be dead. It was the enduring realization that the Resurrection imparts to every believer. Christ is risen!
The appearance episode is very significant since the risen Lord not only graces the college of apostles with the ‘lightning of His glory’, he, like the Father at the dawn of creation, breathed new life into his Apostles and charged them with his very own mission. The palpable joy of Easter continues to flood the Church as we witness the power of God, sacramentally mediated through those saving waters of Baptism, the Oil of Chrism, the reception of the most Holy Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the reading and celebration of the Word of God. This is the ultimate joy of the Resurrection, to know that Christ abides in us as he abides in the Father.
Exult, Let Us Exult!
Friends, I exhort every one of us, without exemption, to rejoice and enter into the Easter feast of the resurrection. Let no one think himself or herself unfit to partake in this feast of the Lord whose resurrection affirms the value of the human person and the world in which we live. Jesus rose as a whole person in body and soul; He did not take on human flesh and then discard it. Along with the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Resurrection assures us that God has embraced the human condition. If the resurrection of the Lord puts every human person in the scheme of redemption, why would anyone blatantly want to be excused from the celebration of this feast? We are Christians because we believe in the Resurrection, which for us means liberation, life, and joy. At the bottom of our hearts, we must have the security that, through Christ, all trials transform into grace, all sadness into joy, and all death into resurrection.
In his first epistle, St. Peter warns us not to be consumed by the fiery ordeals that we experience in life, for they are meant to test us. Instead, he calls us to rejoice, insofar as we are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that we may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed [1Pet. 4:12-13]. Indeed, after all that we are going through, the God of all grace who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish us [1 Pet. 5:10]. We can clearly understand why those who in the face of trials and unimaginable persecutions, wade through relentlessly simply because they have some internally comforting warmth that is beyond human wisdom and explanation. These come in the form of some spiritual wellness born out of hope and consolation that “after all, there is always an Easter Sunday after Good Friday.”
Easter joy is living in gratitude for the gift of life, especially newborn life and life that has come at a great price. But this joy is understood in a special way by those who know what it means to have life because of the sacrifice of others. The one who understands deeply an act so great, which does not count as mere heroism, but is reconciliatory and redemptive, such a person would forever bask in the joy of Easter. In truth, our joy is the measure of our attachment to God in confidence, hope, faith and appreciation for the life wrought for us by His Son.
Being an Easter people, we are to radiate genuine positive energy, and in doing so, bear witness to the reality of the resurrection. The true Christian is incapable of living on the fringe of joy since through Christ, we have been introduced and installed into joy. While the celebration of Easter happens on one Sunday of the year, we are called to be Easter people all of the time because for Christians, every day is Easter, every day is a day to be joyful. During his public life, Jesus said to his apostles, “by this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” [Jn. 13:35]. In similar manner, upon his rising Jesus could have easily also said, “all men will know you are my disciples by your joy”. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit [Gal 5:22], a trademark of the authentic Christian.
May the light and glory of the risen Lord flood our hearts through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God bless you.
Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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