SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Ge 1:1–2:2; Ps 103(104) or Ps 32(33), Ge 22:1-18; Ps 15(16), Ex 14:15–15; Ex 15 canticle, Is 54:5-14;Ps 29(30), Is 55:1-11; Is 12 canticle, Is 55:1-11;Is 12 canticle, Bar 3:9-15.32–4:4; Ps 18(19), Ez 36:16-28; Ps 41(42) or Ps 50(51), Rom 6:3-11; Ps 117(118), Mt 28:1-10 ]
“Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’” It is strange that the Risen Lord would ask the disciples to meet Him in Galilee when He was crucified in Jerusalem. Why did not the Lord meet them in Jerusalem after the resurrection? Galilee was the place where He began His ministry. Most of His disciples came from Galilee. Jerusalem, although the place of His passion and glory, would not hold so much memory as Galilee when they were first called by the Lord. This appointment came a week later, after meeting His apostles at the Upper Room.
At Easter, we too must return to that day when we first became disciples of our Lord Jesus through baptism. Easter is an invitation for us to recall that day when we were first baptized. This explains why we renew our baptismal vows with lighted candles followed by the rite of sprinkling of Holy Water. For those of us who were baptized at birth, we had the opportunity to ratify our baptismal promises once again at our confirmation. Those of us who went through the RCIA had the opportunity to make our decision to be baptized in the Lord. When we were baptized, we became a new creation, sons and daughters of God. No longer do we walk in darkness but in the light. How wonderful was that day when we became sons and daughters of God, or when we were empowered to be His witnesses at confirmation!
But where are we now in our faith in Christ? This is the question we need to ask ourselves. Are we still thrilled about our relationship with Christ like the early apostles? Mary Magdalene was deeply in love with our Lord. The women of Jerusalem were faithful to Christ and they stood by the cross of Jesus until His death. They were the first to be at the tomb on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene was in tears to discover the body of Jesus taken away. St Peter and St John ran to the tomb upon hearing that the body was missing. What about us? Are we still proud to be Catholic? Are we still happy to stand up for Jesus? Are we excited to meet Jesus each Sunday and receive Him in the Eucharist? Do we look forward to meet the Lord in prayer, waiting like Mary Magdalene for the Lord to come into our lives? Some of us were once very close to our Lord, active in Church ministry, passionate in witnessing to Christ and serving Him. But where are we now? Perhaps, our service in the Church has become a routine and duty. There is no longer any passion or enthusiasm in our ministry.
Secondly, are we eager to share our faith stories about our encounters with the Risen Lord? We read that the women, upon encountering the Risen Lord, ran to inform the disciples. They could not contain their joy. “Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.” Indeed, the sign that we have encountered the Risen Lord is when we cannot stop sharing with others what the Lord means to us, what He has done for us in our life and the difference He makes in our life today, which is lived meaningfully, joyfully and purposefully. The lack of missionary zeal to share Christ with others is a clear indication that we are worshipping a dead Christ or worse still, a dead hero. If Jesus were the Christ, the Risen Lord, our saviour, then we, like the apostles, would be announcing Him to the whole world that Christ is our Lord is risen. He lives!
If we have lost our passion for Christ and are apathetic in announcing Christ to others, then we need to recall our baptism and the significance of what it means to be baptized in Christ. To be baptized is to be delivered from our bondage to sin, from darkness and death. This theme of deliverance is central to the Easter Vigil and celebration. This is what the whole Easter Liturgy seeks to do. It tries to recapture the sentiments of being freed from the slavery of sin and deliverance from darkness and death. Hence, we have the rich service of the light, the scripture readings are all focused on the consequences of sin, which is slavery and death. At the same time, we have the light of the Risen Christ overcoming darkness, conquering sin, slavery and death by His resurrection from the dead.
Firstly, in the book of Exodus, we have the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. They passed through the waters. It is a symbol of dying to the old man and rising with the new Adam. It foreshadows the baptism of the early Christians. By crossing the red sea, they left behind the idols of Egypt and made preparation to enter the Promised Land. For us, we only take nine months to make a decision for Christ and be baptized. The Hebrews had to wait for forty years in the desert to be formed in faith and virtues before they could be allowed to enter into the Promised Land. It was a period of purification and testing. God could have taken them by a direct route to the Promised Land, but instead took them through the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, wandering in the desert to learn obedience and faith.
We too must recall how our sins keep us under bondage as well. We cannot forgive. We are proud and egoistic. We are addicted to our bad habits and sinful way of life, lust, greed, envy and gluttony. All these sins make us truly slaves to the world, the flesh and to ourselves. We are not able to live as free people. Instead we live in guilt and in regret of our past, yet cannot let go of our sins. We are living in our tomb of sins. All these will be taken away if, like the Israelites, we leave behind our past, die to self and live a new life in Christ. “When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.” Christ’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit will give us that power to deliver us from the bondage of sin.
Secondly, in the Book of Ezekiel, the Israelites in exile were going through a living death, without hope, without meaning and purpose, living in a strange land. But the Lord promised them a new resurrection. Their dry bones would be enfleshed and they would be resurrected and given a new Spirit. Since the Exile was a punishment for their sins, the return must be accompanied by purification where they would be given a new heart and a new spirit. Indeed, they needed a new spirit to live. In our lives too we feel like we are in exile when there is darkness, no direction and meaning. Many of us are living aimlessly, drifting along, not knowing the purpose of life and our destiny. When we live without hope and purpose, then we are still living in the tomb. We have not yet seen the light. What we need to do is to welcome Christ, the radiant light of God that rises in the East and gives us new life and hope. In Christ, we realize that we must die to ourselves, our self-centeredness and live for others. For by serving others, we come to find the meaning and purpose of life. As St Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:14f)
When we bring together the themes of slavery to sin and emptiness in life, the letter of St Paul gives us the key to be set free from sin, evil and death. St Paul speaks of baptism as dying to sin and rising to a new life in Christ. Necessarily, to be baptized means a constant imitation of His death so that we can share in His resurrection. In order to be delivered from the slavery of sin, we must be crucified with Christ. With the resurrection, there is hope for all. With sin and death conquered, by love and fullness of life, we can now partake of this resurrected life in Christ. All we need to do now is to live this life of Christ by dying to self and giving ourselves in love and service to God and humanity. This decision must be renewed daily and constantly if we are to share in this new life.
If you have gone through this experience of being liberated from sin and from death, then you too can rejoice. This encounter is ours if we have humbly acknowledged our sins, confessed them, and put on Christ. Those who have died to sin and started walking the life of Christ will understand the power of the resurrection. Indeed, today is the restoration of creation. This is why we celebrate Easter as the beginning of new life, and on a Sunday, the first day of the week. The first reading speaks of the beauty of creation. But sin destroyed the harmony of creation. Sin took away paradise from us and we have lost our likeness of God. With baptism, we have been restored in Christ. We are now children of God, sons and daughters of God. We are now enlightened by Christ. With Him, we have overcome sin and death. This is our joy. This is our hope. Christ is our life. Alleluia!