Happy Easter to all! Today we should rejoice! It’s time to party!
There is a story about a man who attended a great party. He enjoyed a lot and he had too much to drink. So, he wanted to get home and go to bed quickly. The only way to do this was to take the road that passes through the cemetery. But the place was dark and he fell into a freshly dug grave. The pit was so deep that he had no way of getting out. He cried for help, but to no avail. Finally convinced of the futility of his efforts, he just sat down in a corner to sleep and wait for daylight. After a short while, another drunken man took the same road. As expected, he also fell into the same pit. He jumped and shouted for help. He did not know that somebody else was with him down there. The first guy was awakened by the noise of the terrified man. So he tried to calm him down. He touched him with his cold hands and with a deep voice said, “Relax. You cannot get out of here tonight.” In an instant, the poor guy was able to jump out of the pit!
In the cemetery, we see various epitaphs on tombstones, some of them truly amusing. On the tomb of an atheist: “Here lies an Atheist, All dressed up, And no place to go.” On the tomb of a famous lawyer: “Here lies a lawyer who lies no more.” On the tomb of Jesus, perhaps the most appropriate words would be: “Jesus was here, but not anymore for He is risen.”
Jesus is out of the grave. The tomb is empty. He did not jump out of the tomb out of extreme panic and fear. He has risen from the dead. The tomb could not contain him for he is not dead. He is alive forever, for he is God. He has conquered death, and won the victory for us.
Victory presupposes war or battle. Jesus went into battle. And he won. He fought against violence. He did not resist when he was led to the cross. He used the weapon of non-violence and forgiveness. He won. He fought against pride and arrogance. He used the power of humility and meekness. And he won. He fought against lies and deception. He just said the truth, for he is himself the Truth. And he won. He fought against death. He died but rose again. He won.
We are now in the middle of a terrible war. We are fighting a great spiritual battle. Recent news reports are telling us about the vicious attacks, not only against priests and bishops, but directly against the supreme authority of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI. The enemies of God and of the Church are for real, and they are serious. Like Jesus who was attacked not only by outside enemies but also by those closest to him, betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the other disciples, so also the Church is attacked from without as well as from within.
There is war. And the enemy seems to be winning. The worsening economic crisis, the ever-growing threats of terrorism and violence, the increasing number of unborn infants murdered, failed marriages and broken families, the rapid spread of false teachings and blatant lies, the proliferation of drug abuse cases, and the strong influence of materialism and egoism in the minds and hearts of people – all these are telling us that we could be losing the battle. These are the reasons why many of us still continue to feel the pains and sorrow of Good Friday.
But in the midst of all these, the joyful message of Easter rings clearly: Jesus is the winner! We are assured of victory. In Christ, we shall overcome. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, proclaims the message of hope. “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For, if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.”
St. Paul is not talking about winning the whole world, totally eradicating poverty and injustice, cleaning up our society from all bad elements and overcoming all problems in the world. Instead he is talking about joining Jesus in his death through our baptism, so that we may rise with him in his resurrection – “so that we, too, might live in newness of life.” It is a personal battle and personal victory he is trying to tell us.
A wise man shared his learning experience. He said: “When I was young, I wanted to change the world. After some time, I realized I cannot change the world. So, when I grew older, I tried to change the people around me. And again, I realized I cannot change other people. Now that I am very old, I decided to give up trying to change the world and other people; instead, I will strive to change myself.”
We cannot change the world. We have no power to change the hardened hearts and minds of evil people and of those who hate us. But definitely, we have the power to change ourselves. Through Jesus, our victorious Lord, we have the assurance that we can win the war in our personal lives. Then our personal victories, taken together with all the others, will mean the conversion of many hearts that will gradually usher in the dawn of justice and peace in the world. Instead of cursing the darkness of sin and evil in the world and prolonging the grief and anguish of Good Friday, let us struggle to rise up and begin our earnest campaign to convert and conquer ourselves and become beacons of light and hope in this world. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus always gives us the reason to hope and rejoice in our own personal victory as children of God.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002