[REFLECTIONS] Finding the risen Christ

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David
[REFLECTIONS] Finding the risen Christ


We participate in Christ's resurrection if we desire not just to be saved from COVID-19 but to help in saving people from this disease

It’s a first in world history: an online Holy Week for millions of people, even in Vatican City, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rappler presents a series of reflections to help you, our reader, enter the spirit of Holy Week even in quarantine.

One of the recollections that I shared last week was entitled “Finding Jesus in the Midst of this Pandemic Crisis.” I have decided to draw my thoughts from that recollection for this Easter Vigil homily. This will be a bit long, but we have all the time now, remember? So please, bear with me.

We are like Mary Magdalene and the other women who saw an empty tomb and went about looking for Jesus. He was missing. We look for people when they are absent. Where is Jesus in these times when we need him most? I have heard this being expressed many times in the laments of people in the past few weeks since we went on community quarantine because of this pandemic.

I wouldn’t blame them, it is not easy to answer this question but let me try anyway. Where indeed is Jesus? Where can we find him?

In the version of Saint Luke 24:5, we get an answer from the angels at the tomb: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Meaning – there is no way you can find him, even if you keep looking, because you’re looking in the wrong places.

Maybe that is why we associate Easter with a hunt or a search, such as the Easter egg hunt rituals in the west. Easter is indeed a quest. You have to know how and where to find what you are looking for. Ang why eggs? Well, obviously because an egg is alive! That is, if it is not yet cooked. The symbolism is spoiled if we use boiled eggs for our Easter hunt. Can you still expect life to come out of a boiled egg?

Back to the question, what does it take to find what we are looking for? It is not easy to find what we look for when one is enveloped in grief and despair like Mary Magdalene, or in guilt, like Peter. At least the youngest disciple, John, who was with Peter, knew how to look for signs. The Lord usually gives clues, or the angel would usually guide you where you are supposed to look.

When we are disoriented, when we lack focus, we are bound to miss him or pass him by even if we may have already bumped on him. Isn’t this the common motif in the stories about the Easter apparitions of the Risen Christ?

Did not Magdalene mistake him for the gardener? Did not the disciples by the lakeshore think he was an old beggar who was asking for fish? Did not the two disciples walk and talk with him all the way to Emmaus and still failed to recognize him?

‘Sleepless on Good Friday’

Where should we look? Yesterday, my brother passed on to me a prayer that was shared to him by Chichi Fajardo Robles. Chichi, by the way, is a fellow radio broadcaster at Radyo Veritas. She wrote a prayer which she entitled, “Sleepless on Good Friday.” It is in English so let me read it to you in English.

Lord, I gaze at your lifeless body on the cross disfigured by wounds and sores. A picture of unimaginable pain and suffering. I am moved, dear God, by the thought that the victims of coronavirus seemed to have taken on some of the agonies of your Passion.

It is said that those who are stricken by the disease experience high fevers and excruciating headaches. My Lord, aren’t these the thorns that pierced through your head so deep that blood oozed from every cavity? They thrust on your head a mockery of a crown which, instead of having gems, had deadly spikes that cut flesh. What a strange coincidence that this virus should be named a “corona,” meaning, a crown.

Those who are critically ill of COVID-19 have difficulty breathing causing them to depend on oxygen masks and in worst cases to be intubated and attached to a ventilator. The virus attacks the lungs and causes the victim to gasp for air. Dear Jesus, isn’t this reminiscent of the terrible torture of hanging on the cross, hanging by your nailed hands and feet; consequently causing your chest, your lungs, to collapse? Moving your head, even uttering words must have been extremely painful. But even from up there you were teaching us.

The saddest part of the COVID-19 patient’s journey is the separation from family and loved ones. From the moment a sick person tests positive, s/he is isolated and enters a cruel but necessary sort of incarceration which allows no visitors, no healing touch, no comforting words from people they love most. My Savior, how did you bear that undeserved sentence of death on the cross, the separation from your Beloved Mother, the betrayal of those you taught and trusted, and the abandonment by those you called friends? Alone, naked, despised, dying like a criminal – how can you still love us and forgive us after that?

I pray that in your great mercy these lives claimed by this virulent tragedy will not be in vain. Reward them, Lord, with eternal peace in your kingdom where they will be untouched by thorns and tortures. Comfort their families and friends with the thought that their loved ones shared in your suffering in a humanly heroic and divinely pleasing way. It was not a curse but a call to come home.

Tonight and moving forward, I choose to focus on Christ Jesus on the Cross and not coronavirus.”

That was the conclusion of Chichi’s prayer.

In short, it came as a striking realization for Chichi that the sufferings of the COVID-19 patients so closely resemble the sufferings of Jesus, as well as his death. I wish to complete Chichi’s reflection by relating it also to the resurrection. Did we not hear from the reading a while ago from Romans 6,8: “If we are one with the death of Christ, we shall also be one with his resurrection”?

The key word is COMMUNION or PARTICIPATION. If we still think of Christ as apart from us, if we still look at him only as savior, and ourselves as the objects of salvation, we will probably never find him no matter how desperately we search for him. We would be like stupid fools looking up to heaven waiting for a superman to come down and save us from COVID-19.

Participating in Christ’s resurrection

Brothers and sisters, being a Christian is not about just looking up to heaven and waiting. It is a participation; it is communion. Maybe that is the reason why he disappears again after he appears to his disciples. He does not appear only to save us but to get us to participate in his saving mission. If we have entered into communion with him in body and spirit, his suffering and death become our suffering and death as well. And his resurrection becomes our resurrection.

He himself will guide us in our search for him, so that when we have found him, he can disappear already, because we are already in communion with him. Like I said in the recollection, we have been called not just to be Christians but TO BE CHRIST. We receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist so that we can change and grow and become truly part of the body of Christ. If by the one Spirit that we have received as gift we become one with him, his voice should be heard in our voice, his touch should be felt through our touch, his face would become visible in our faces. Why? Because he lives in us and we in him.

Isn’t this also what Saint Paul has said? According to Paul, every disciple and apostle of Christ should learn to say, “My life no longer belongs to me. It belongs to Christ who lives in me.” This is the resurrection that we celebrate today!

We are not yet participating in the resurrection of Christ if we just look up to heaven, if all we can do is wait for a savior to save us. We participate in his resurrection if we desire not just to be saved from COVID-19 but to help in saving people from this disease, perhaps even at the cost of our own lives.

I read one reaction to the word “frontliner.” He said he refused to call doctors, nurses, and other health workers as the frontliners. He said perhaps it would be better to call them second liners in this battle, because we should think of ourselves, yes, all of us, as the real frontliners. If we don’t want our health workers to fall and get wiped out, we must not leave the job to them alone. Neither should we add up to their already huge task. Before we ask to be taken care of by them, let us first take care of ourselves and of each other.

I wonder if you’ll agree that this COVID-19 crisis is teaching us a most unique kind of Easter Hunt. What the scientists who are burning the midnight oil to study and understand this virus are doing should also be called an Easter hunt. What the epidemiologists who are trying to come up with a vaccine in order to fight this disease are doing is also an Easter hunt. And what about the discovery that those who have been infected of the virus and have recovered, develop a natural immunity and their blood becomes a good agent that could counteract COVID-19 through convalescent plasma transfusion? Wow. That is also the product of an Easter hunt!

So please take care, especially the paranoid ones who discriminate against health workers as if they were lepers. You better watch out, not just because they’ll be the ones who will also look after you in case you get infected by this virus. More than that, you might end up needing these very people whom you once drove away from their homes. You might end up needing not just their service but also their blood which is capable of healing you.

Happy Easter hunt! May our Easter hunt in this unforgettable year 2020 be truly an experience of seeking and finding Jesus where we truly can find him!

Happy Easter to all of you! – Rappler.com

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David heads the Diocese of Caloocan. A renowned Bible scholar, he is also vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

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