Apr. 15, 2017

Easter Sunday, 2017

THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION 

Let us use the old Peter to introduce this reflection. The old Peter was the fearful Peter who stood outside the courtyard during his master's trial. The old Peter was the one confronted by the servant-girl, the one who was quick to respond, "I do not know what you are talking about" (Matt.26:71). The old Peter was the one who took an oath before the enemies of Jesus denying he never knew him. The old Peter cursed and swore to the bystanders, "I do not know the man" (Matt.26:75). The old Peter heard the cock crow and wept for his disgusting actions. The old Peter fizzled away in the crowd, became completely anonymous at the crucifixion of the Master Jesus. 

The first reading of the Easter Sunday presents us with the new Peter, the one completely transformed by the power of Christ's resurrection. The new Peter quickly comes to such depth of faith and courage. The audacity of his conviction empowers him to proclaim the risen Lord to the Jews. The new Peter states that Christ is anointed with power and the Holy Spirit, and that he goes about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil. The new Peter stresses, "We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem" (Acts 10:39). In Acts of the Apostles, we notice the new zeal injected in believers by the resurrection of Christ. Luke states, "You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come upon you, and then you will be my witnesses, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth's remotest end" (Acts 1:8). The power of the resurrection transforms believers from timidity to courage, from mediocrity to resourcefulness, from fear to confidence, from despair to hope, from sloth to agility, from naivety to wisdom. The resurrection commissioned the new Peter, and as well commissions us to preach to the people, to testify that Christ is the appointed of God to judge the living and the dead. Yes, He is alive. Let's shout ALLELUIA...... 

Not only Peter was transformed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb early in the morning. At the crucifixion, these ladies watched from a distance (Matt.27:55) as Christ sorrowfully marched to Golgotha to be crucified. The resurrection restored their energy to bear witness to the risen Christ. Hence, they left early enough to the tomb. The description of the angel who descended from heaven to roll away the stone matched exactly that of Christ at his transfiguration; "His face was like lightening, his robe white as snow" (Matt.28:3-4; cf.Mk.9:3). That's the transforming power of the resurrection. The concentration of fear also shifted. Before the resurrection, the disciples were the ones afraid, but after the resurrection, "The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they were like dead men" (Matt.28:4). St. John writes about him, "What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in the darkness, and darkness could not overpower it" (Jn.1:4-5). The angel declared to the women, "Do not be afraid, I know who you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen" (Matt.28:5-6). 

In the second reading, Saint Paul gives us an analogy of the yeast that leavens the dough. He invites us to become fresh batch of dough. Oftentimes, we see bread in its big and leavened form, the finished product. It is usually the small amount of yeast that enables the flour to rise, then a big loaf is formed. "Leaven" for Saint Paul, as in the Old Testament, symbolizes sin and corruption. Paul reminds us to think of how our Christian life, the life of the resurrection can impact the world contrary to the old leaven of sin. He explains that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (v. 7), his resurrection annihilates "the old yeast of malice and wickedness" (v. 8). For Paul, just as at the Passover ancient Israel was instructed to remove any leaven from their homes, so as believers in Christ's resurrection, we must remove all sin and evil in order to worship God. 

The mandate for us today just like for Mary Magdalene and Peter, is to "Go and tell his disciples that He has been raised from the dead". They went away "fearfully overjoyed", ran to announce the resurrection of Christ. Similarly, we must be transformed by the news that Christ is risen. We must be bearers of the good news. 

If we take the idea of "leaven" from a positive dimension, we can also use it to measure the impact of the good news to those around us. Jesus told the disciples a parable, "The kingdom of God is like the yeast a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through" (Matt.13:33). The yeast makes the flour leavened, causes it to rise a great deal. That is what the good news does. We leave in a period of trouble for Christianity, not because of its content but especially because of the aggressive approach from other competing world religions. Threats consistently mount against Christianity. Negative influences come from the social media culture. Policies that contradict Christian principles are daily postulated. Christians seem cowed and discouraged amidst these threats. Saint Paul says to us, "For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast" (1Cor.5:7-8). The new dough in us is the dough of courage, sincerity, justice, love, compassion and joy. It is the dough of the risen Christ which made the new Peter bold witness to the resurrection. 

Easter brings transformation to believers and fear to non-believers. Those who contradict or deny the message are simply dead like the guards at the tomb. Let us embrace the message with courage and conviction. Let us open ourselves as Christ's witnesses. Saint Francis de Sales once wrote in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, "Those who love God can never stop thinking about him, longing for him, aspiring to him, and speaking about him. If it were possible, they would engrave the holy, sacred name of Jesus on the breasts of all mankind. Every creature proclaims the praises of their beloved". Christ tells you again as you encounter him at Easter, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; there they will see me" (Matt.28:10). Galilee is that apostolic mission that we all must embrace as believers. Galilee is the place of evangelical action, that point of encounter with the risen Christ. Galilee is our homes, offices, schools, and any spot where we need to proclaim the risen Christ. Let us go and tell the whole world, he is risen, he is not in that place of darkness anymore. 

Happy Easter!