Christ is Risen!
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - April 1, 2018 - 12:00am

In 1972 Trina Paulus published a simple but profound and revolutionary book entitled “Hope for the Flowers.” The book had few words and simple sketches – very easy to read.

But the theme, as Trina puts it, is “to the ‘more’ of life – the real revolution.” It is the story of two caterpillars, named: Stripe and Yellow, who were searching for real meaning in life.

“There must be more to life than just eating and getting bigger,” they thought. In their search they just saw caterpillars crawling towards a column. And when they got nearer, they noticed the column was nothing but a pillar of squirming, pushing caterpillars – a caterpillar pillar.

Thinking there must be something there, Stripe and Yellow joined the column, squirming, stepping on others, kicking their way in every direction – just pushing upwards like everyone else.

What was on top, they didn’t know except that every now and then they saw someone being pushed off the top of the column.

Then came the point when there were no more fellow caterpillars on the pile – they became only threats and obstacles, which turned into steps and opportunities.

Finally, Yellow got fed up with all this striving and struggling, pushing, and stepping on others. She starts working her way down the pile. As she wandered through the fields, she discovered from a butterfly that there is a butterfly within her.  And what more, without butterflies there would be no flowers.

But she has to go through a process of hanging upside down and becoming motionless for a time. Then the butterfly within her would emerge.

Overcoming her fears, she went through the process and became a beautiful butterfly. When she flew into the air, she saw piles and piles of caterpillars fighting their way to get to the top only to be pushed off and plunge down.

She searched for her friend Stripe and convinced him that she was the Yellow he knew.

Finally, Stripe worked his way down to follow what Yellow did. And he too emerged a beautiful butterfly. And they live happily ever after.

The Easter story is something like that. Christ went through his passion and death to bring us new life. And he shows us the way to the more and greater meaning of life.

The Easter proclamation is “Christ is risen.” Truly Christ is risen! But what does it mean?

On the surface it sounds simple enough: This man from Nazareth, who had ideas, was crucified, and is now alive and moving around meeting with his friends. In the Gospel of John. he even prepares a meal of fish and eats it with his disciples on the shores of Galilee.

But other Easter stories are very strange. This resurrected Christ, who seems substantial enough to share a meal, is the same who suddenly appears and disappears from the upper room.

A frightened Mary Magdalene sees someone at the tomb, whom she mistakes for the gardener, only to finally recognize that it is the Lord.

In this story, Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “Do not touch me, because I am not yet ascended to my Father.” But a few verses later he invites Thomas to place his finger in the nail holes and to thrust his hand into the wound in his side.

The strange and confusing nature of the Easter stories is a warning: This is a story of resurrection – not resuscitation.

In the Gospels, Lazarus and the son of the widow of Naim were resuscitated by the great miracle of Jesus. They died and were brought back to life, brought back from the dead to their former body, but they ultimately died again.

In contrast, the resurrected Christ is raised to God’s life, into life without death.

If the Gospel writers and their sources have problems describing immortal body, we should not wonder. The Easter message for Christians is not that we will share the mortal story of Lazarus – no, rather, we share the immortal story of Jesus.

The strongest proof of the Resurrection is how to account for the transformation of this confused, dejected, demoralized band of simple fishermen into fearless preachers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Something transformed the disciples from dejection into courage, courage even unto martyrdom. This “something that happened” they called – and we call – Resurrection.

The apostles went forth into the eye of the storm: Christos anesti – Christ is risen. The Gospel, this “good news,” would be preached.

But there is more to affirming “Christ is risen” than conjecturing historical probability about the behavior of the disciples. The truly strange part of the Gospel is that they should have preached Resurrection.

Suppose that the disciples felt great remorse at their running away from Jesus, that to remove their guilt they picked up the message of Jesus’ ministry and went forth to spread that message to the world; suppose all that – what would they preach?

There were all sorts of lessons from Jesus’ ministry. Love your neighbor. Forgive one another. Take care of the sick, the widowed, the prisoner – at least not by Paul, the great missionary.

What does Paul preach? Christos anesti, Christ is risen. It is not that message that gets preached,   it is the messenger: Christ is risen.

The Easter stories are strange enough, but preaching “Christ risen!” is the strangest turn of all. Nothing is easier to understand than the fact that the message of a great man lives after him.

But Paul, the Apostles, the Christian Church, did not so much preach the message of Jesus. They preached Jesus, the One who is Risen.

We tend to think that the Church passes on truths, the message delivered by Jesus in his life. But Jesus does not say, “I am bringing God’s truth.” He says, “I am the Truth. I am the Way, and the Life.”

The prophets of the Hebrew Bible proclaim truths, they told us about the will of God. But Jesus to the Christians is “greater than a prophet.” Jesus is not just God’s messenger, Jesus does not just deliver God’s truth, Jesus is God’s truth.

More than a prophet, Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us, as we proclaim at Christmas. As Christians, we that the truth passed on is not just the message, but Jesus, the Christ, the Risen One.

This is clearly expressed by Catholic tradition in the Eucharist. We, Catholics do not look on the Eucharist as just a reminder of Jesus’ message, or a symbol of Jesus. We say that it is the “real presence” of Jesus.

The Church itself is not a school of wisdom. It is the “Mystical Body of Christ.”

The human meaning of “Christ is risen” involves my deepest need to have a presence for my life, a presence as full as my life, a life companion of life.

So, today we do not preach the message of Jesus as a prophet of profound truths. We preach Jesus as Christ risen, the one who says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”

Jesus is the real presence, the life, which stands alongside my life “as it was then, is now, and ever shall be.”

Christ is risen. Truly, Christ is risen!

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