CHRIST REALLY ROSE FROM DEATH
ARCHBISHOP STANISŁAW NOWAK
Dear Readers of ‘Niedziela’, it is a grace for me to proclaim You a message of Passover a week before the canonization of blessed John Paul II. I would like to make it his favourite formula. The old Polish Easter song was used by him for this purpose:
‘Christ is the Risen,
He is our example given,
For our being resurrected again,
And being with God in reign.
However, while he was penetrating the depth of the mystery of Lord’s Resurrection, he was quoting the first verse of the Sequence of Passover ‘Victimae paschali laudes’ which is assigned to an inhabitant of Burgundy Wipo, and which was created before the year 1050:
‘On the joyful day of the Passover Sacrifice
Let Believers give their gifts of worship
He redeemed his sheep as a Lamb without any scar
He reconciled us with Father and washed away the stain of sin.
Death clashed with life and in a battle surprisingly,
Although the Leader of life reigns alive today’.
How much the archbishop of Cracow as a preacher at Wawel, and later as pope liked emphasizing this terrible pain, a fierce duel which Christ, Leader of life had with death. The leader was defeated but death and the sin connected with it, as well as sadness, loneliness and hopelessness were overcome. Hence ‘joy, joy, three joys’ – as Pascal would say. Joy of Passover. Triumphal. ‘Alleluia!’.
Passion and Resurrection of Christ – the greatest good for the man
Resurrection of Christ is a great mystery for us. The first one, if we consider its power and significance for us. For, the mystery of Resurrection of Lord is strictly connected with His Passion and terrible death on the cross. Although it would seem that Incarnation of God’s Son, His arrival in the world in the human body is an incredible and valuable event for us, although political activity, His teaching and great miracles seem to be the greatest good – all this can be considered as the introduction to a deciding work, which is Redemption, redeeming us from the sin and eternal death. It became at the price of passion and death, which was crowned with resurrection of Christ. It was necessary for God’s Son to take on himself the whole sin of the world insulting God’s goodness, as well as sins of each of us and burn it in the fire of patient and suffering love. This love was expressed just during His passion. Jesus, God’s Son became ‘a Lamb who defeated the sin of the world’. He overcame death in this way. God Father looked at this love without limits and resurrected His Son. The mystery of the Cross is the greatest revelation of the Holy Trinity. This is the hour of Father. God, who became love and eternal opting for the supreme good, decided that the man and the world would have their participation in this work. Passion and resurrection of Christ are the greatest good for the man. We are not surprised that the oldest formula of faith confession, included in the Nice Symbol says that God’s Son ascended from Heaven for us, people and for our salvation, through Mary the Virgin, and that he was crucified for us and rose from death on the third day. So, Resurrection of Christ belongs to the love of mystery of our salvation. Therefore as long as Christ announced his passion -that he would be slandered, scourged and crucified – he added that he would rise from death. God Father looked with love at the sacrifice of his Son on the cross and in grave and he resurrected Him from death. Jesus Christ also rose from death with the power of his deity in love and power of the Holy Spirit. Oh, great Resurrection! Oh really great and holy Night when Christ rose from death.
Death – a phase on the way to resurrection
‘If Christ did not rise from death, our teaching and our faith are in vain’ (1 Cor. 15.14). But Christ rose from death! Resurrection of Christ which is a great mystery of our faith, is a historical fact. We have evidences for it. An empty grave, an odd laying of shrouds and funeral canvasses, and later many apparitions of risen Christ: to Maria Magdalena, Peter, disciples going to Emmaus, Jacob the Younger and many times to the group of Apostles. They were touching him, especially St. Thomas the Apostles who touched His wound. The Risen Lord appeared to over five hundred brothers, finally to Saul travelling to Damascus in hatred to the Christians. The Apostles became witnesses of Christ till His bloodshed.
In today’s times we are astonished by shrouds, canvasses and funeral shawls, which – investigated with the most detailed precision – point to the cruel death, but also resurrection. Finally a Christian must accept this incredible truth with faith, on knees, like St. Thomas the Apostle who confessed: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (J 20.28).
In order to experience fully the joy of Resurrection, let’s look at it from the point of view of life, in an existential way. Who is the man – ‘Animal mobile in mobili’ – a creature which is passing in constant thinking? We all are going towards death. The human thought expresses it with the dramatic words that we all are facing a brutal reality -‘factum brutum’, death. ‘It has been decided that people will die’ (Hebrews 9.27). Death by its nature – Norwid writes – ‘worries the man’. Death asks questions with the end of life and for centuries: Is life only an episode which appears from nothingness and returns to nothingness? Or does life after death exist? ‘The man is a creature who goes away from this world, before he manages to finish and complete his work, and this departure fills his whole existence with a feeling of failure to fulfillment’. (Hans Urs Von Balthasar).
It seems that people are not right to understand death as a process of getting rid of the body by the soul. There is not ground to believe in a possibility of self-development of a soul in its after death. Phenomenology of death tells us to accept an open wound of humankind which is death. In the pre-Christian attempts which we have: in the mystic vision of death, platonic human vision, Aristotelian- Stoic look at the human being are positive elements, but we must state that no philosophy, no religion apart from Christianity, no mythology can create a reasonable whole. Only thanks to the Resurrection of Christ faith can have its justified trustfulness in the victory over death. Nobody has come to us from another shore of the death abyss, only Risen Christ. It was only Him who came out alive from the grave. It was only Him who rose from the grave, He, as an alive Leader, although he was defeated by death. Death overwhelmed him, he accepted it, entered it, but in order to destroy its sting and finally give it sense. He made the human death only a phase on the way to resurrection. Crucified and Risen Christ is sense for us. The great Orygenes was right to say: ‘Every place needs Christ’; or St. Augustine was right to say: ‘The Very God becomes our place after this life’. The place means the purpose, sense and hope. We like reading the poem by blessed John Paul II ‘The Roman Triptych’: This life ‘has sense….has sense….has sense!’. Life has sense, a direction thanks to death and resurrection of Christ. However, Nietsche, an atheistic and nihilistic philosopher writes: ‘Pain – the king of the abyss,/but – over the pain – delight is weeping deeper: /Be dead! –says the pain-./Delight for eternal life is weeping,/It wants endless, endless eternity!’ (‘Zaratustra says so’). Our hope is only in crucified and Risen Christ. Hence St. Paul says: ‘….look for what is in Heaven, where Christ is (…). Aim at what is in Heaven, not what is on earth’ (Col. 3. 1-2).
Easter is the reality on earth
However, we would limit the message of Passover, if we associated it only with hope for achieving eternal life after death. Resurrection does not concern only the final times, but is in the mid of our earthly times. It was Jesus who ‘finished’ with the world and with his future during his Passion. The Final Day already came to him. People living on earth are not in eternal resurrection yet. Disciples had to understand themselves that they lived in time, although Risen Christ was among them. He said to them: “Here I am with you till all days, till the end of the world’ (Mt 28.20). The whole life of the Church on earth is marked with events of the Cross and the Great Night. Risen Christ sends the Holy Spirit to the Church and prepares particular people and the world for the final resurrection. The Holy Spirit gives us the most important gift from God: Lord’ s Body and Blood – Eucharist. So, accepting the Holy Spirit, which is the Eucharist, is already the beginning of resurrection. ‘The Spirit gives life; the body is useless’ (J 6.63). ‘Who eats my Body and drinks my Blood, will have eternal life, and I will resurrect him on the final day’ (J 6.54). The Church on the Day of Pentecost, concentrated on Mary who was the first to see Risen Lord, prays so that we would feel what Mary did. Here, on earth, ‘Lord (…) is the Spirit’(2 Cor. 3.17) and ‘death has no power over Him any more’ (Romans 6.9). Here, on earth there is time of Passover. Easter is the reality on earth. However, it does not distance us from the cross. On contrary, it is still leading us to it. Passover, that is, transition of Christ from death to eternal life, is still current. We live in resurrection in this world. Hence there is the joyful ‘gaudium paschale’, a great joy. A Christian, the man immersed in death and resurrection of Christ through baptism and feeding himself with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, is a happy man and his heart is full of joy.
Proclaiming joy of Passover to the Readers of ‘Niedziela’ and hoping for eternal life with Lord, now and here, on earth, about which pope Francis writes so beautifully, I wish the joyful ‘Alleluia!’