Holy Week

[REFLECTION] He is risen!

Melba Padilla Maggay

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[REFLECTION] He is risen!
'Unknown to many of us, Jesus has already inaugurated a brave new world where the human spirit need not flinch before the savage scythe of the Reaper'

The burial had been hasty. The rites for the dead were completed before sunset so as not to profane the Sabbath. There was no time to anoint Jesus’ body properly and the women  – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – were anxious to pay this last homage to their master. So, very early, as soon as the Sabbath was over, they rushed to the tomb. It was empty. The heavy stone door, needing the strength of two or more people to roll it away, had been pushed aside. The empty cavern gaped at them.

The women were momentarily lost. In their grief they had anticipated ministering to the dead man they loved. He wasn’t there, but in a flash appeared two angels bright as lightning. Fear filled the women. But the angels’ words, full of wonder and tingling in their ears, brought back memories of what he said, oh – not so long ago….

They had been giddy then with the crowds – and the dark sayings had been missed in the din of enthusiasm and great expectations. That he must die they had hardly heard, and when he died, the grimness of it, stark and appalling, stunned and broke them. Words spoken about rising again escaped them altogether.

And now, there were these strange men saying, “No, you will not find the living among the dead.” He is risen, alive, on the loose and walking about. “See the place where they laid him.” The shroud and the strips of linen wrapped around the body were lying there, like a cocoon left empty by a butterfly.

The news was too much. The women rushed to the apostles huddled together in defeat. “I have seen the Lord!” said Mary, hardly able to contain herself. The other women bubbled with what the angels had told them, but the men were unmoved, for the words seemed to them like the sort of nonsense women say.

It is perhaps of no small significance that the seemingly incredible news of an event like the Resurrection should be entrusted initially to women, who in a male-dominated society would have very little hope of being taken seriously. The fact seems to underscore two things: one, the Lord of life and death had a high regard for women, valuing their veracity and their integrity; and two, the event was, and is, sufficiently unshakeable to withstand skepticism.

What were the facts? What was it in this account of Jesus’ rising that could turn distraught men and women into dauntless pioneers of a massive movement that for centuries has turned the world upside down?

The apostle Paul, recounting the appearances and the significance of Jesus’ rising, had this to say:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15.3-8, 17-19)

Boldly, Paul was prepared to stake the claims of his faith on at least one empirical fact: Christ did rise, and that truth authenticates the acceptability of his sacrifice before God and the certainty of our own bodily resurrection from the dead.

Life before this had only been wistful music, a bleak and aching song that could not still the quiver and the fear before the dark and abysmal shadows of approaching death. Now there is the possibility of flouting death in the face, as Paul says: “O death where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting?” 

“For as in Adam all die,” says Paul, “in Christ all will be made alive.”  All who die believing in him shall burst open the tomb and rise again, shaking the ectoplasmic mist of that dark night, bidding “good morrow” to our waking souls.

As the preacher-poet John Donne puts it,

“One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And Death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die…” 

In our time, great strides have been made in healing and soothing pain and increasing our days. Still, transplants and life-support systems can only prolong an already painful life. In our misery we desperately ward off the grim ferryman, yet in spite of our daring ingenuity, the test tube fails, and what W.H. Auden calls our “human unsuccess” shows in the monstrous Frankensteins produced by our failed projects.

Unknown to many of us, Jesus has already inaugurated a brave new world where the human spirit need not flinch before the savage scythe of the Reaper.  “Do not fear him who can only kill the body,” he told his disciples.

Certain that the life which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power, the Early Christians went on to spread a religion of hope in a dying and dissipated empire. Three centuries later, the Roman Empire crumbled. Yet from the smoke and the ruins spread the fiercely burning bushfire that is Christendom, flaring ever more brightly, lighting beacons which have since guided dispirited nations.

Today, whether in the teeming metropolis or in far-flung corners of the earth, men and women continue to pour out their lives so that those who live in quiet desperation before the infirmity of our mortal life may find hope and new life in Christ. In the trivial materialism and furiously empty go-getting of contemporary life, one wonders about these who have given up all and gently spend themselves for the cause of Christ. They look forward to the time when we shall all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, and like Shakespeare’s Ariel sing that those are pearls that were once our eyes.

Courage, high seriousness, and a body no longer subject to falling hair and the deepening lines in one’s face – all these because Christ has been raised. “This thing was not done in a corner,” says Paul; it is there in the records, and there are many witnesses. If it is but an idle dream, dares Paul, then,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

– Rappler.com

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