[Commentary] Easter newness


Image by C.H. Spurgeon done on the Lord's day (morning of 29 March 1891) at the Metropolian Tabernacle in Newington, USA. (image taken from http://fortheloveofhistruth.com/2012/04/05/christs-resurrection-and-our-newness-of-life/)

Image by C.H. Spurgeon done on the Lord’s day (morning of 29 March 1891) at the Metropolian Tabernacle in Newington, USA. (image taken from http://fortheloveofhistruth.com/2012/04/05/christs-resurrection-and-our-newness-of-life/)





Are we  captives of  “pre-conceived ideas of Easter”?, theologian Eamonn Bredin asks. Do we  assume  that Easter is “little more  than the simple resuscitation of a larger-than-life Jesus”?
“Then, we have no hope,” he writes in Rediscovering Jesus. That’d only be  a reprieve, before we  slip back into death. “ If for this life only  we have hoped in Christ,” St.  Paul wrote,  ” we are, of all men, most to be pitied.”
The Philippines leads the world in the number of people who believe in God,  a  University of Chicago research group reports, based on surveys taken in 30 countries since 1991. Here, 94% percent  believe in God, followed by Chileans, 88%, and  Americans  81%.  .Belief was lowest among East Germans,  13%  and Czechs, 20 %
A  head count,  however, can  paper over the deeper  fissures. Why is the Philippines, reputed to be the only Christian nation, also among the most corrupt?, asks former Asian Develeopment Bank lead economist and UP professor Ernesto Pernia. This disconnect “may have to do with the weak link – or lack thereof – between faith and practice”.
The late Jesuit scientist  Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ,  called this as  “split-level Christianity”. A politician attends mass on Sunday, then plunders Monday to Saturday. Think Malampaya Sound and pork barrel  racketeering. Hear that  Jinggoy, Juan Ponce, Bong and Co?
What is the empty Garden tomb, with its folded burial shroud, to us? Few of think of our deaths –And Easter is time to grapple with “the two great mysteries that confront us: God and death.”
There are many Easter stories, scholars tell us. But they all express the same message: “God did not allow Him to be held in death” . And Jesus appeared to Simon / me / us / them.
Luke and John come close to a physical description of Jesus after his death by crucifixion. Time and space no longer bind Him. He comes and vanishes, even if doors are shut. Nor do they recognize Him immediately, in the Upper Room or on Lake Galilee’s shores.
 They encounter the crucified Jesus in a new way. “He had become another,” Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ of  Loyola House of Studies  notes. “I think of that quaint expression people sometimes use in Taglish: You are very another na.”
“They recognized Him in the breaking of bread”—description of the Eucharist and mass, since Pilate’s time, the evangelists add. Thus, the Eucharist  is Jesus  revealed to us as “Emmanuel,”  Arevalo adds.  He is “the God Who is with us always:  fellow Wayfarer, Companion on life’s journey, Friend of all our nights and days…That is why there is such a bond between Easter and the Eucharist.”
But only 36% of Filipino teenagers believe in the Eucharistic  Presence, a  survey found. Over 49% thought the Host was just a symbol, or a reminder. The rest were uncertain.  Without this bond, will these youngsters, like the women on Easter morning, futilely “seek the living among the dead?”
In the Holy Week readings, we read how the Master’s followers scampered in fright.“Before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times”, He told  a  self-confident Peter earlier. So, what transformed them after Easter?
They met Jesus after Calvary and arrived at an absolute certitude: this Jesus Who died on the cross had entered into a radically transformed life. They now speak not about some kind of “His cause goes on,” Bredin notes. Rather, they assert: Jesus has been brought, through death, into God’s future.
That  experience “brought Peter the Rock out of Simon the betrayer, or a crucified Paul out of a crucifying Saul, or the church of martyrs out of the scattered disciples.”
The disciples’ experience has been refracted to us over the centuries,. In September 1637, a catechist from  Tondo, Lorenzo Ruiz  refused to renounce his faith. He was executed along with other Christians in the persecutions of  the Tokogawa shogunate.  And in Aprill 1672, Pedro Calungsod from the Visayas was speared  to death while protecting the Jesuit missionary: Diego Luis de San Vitores. He was  named saint in  2012.
“After the resurrection, the disciples saw the living Christ, who they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith,”  St. Thomas Aquinas was to write. Thus, the  language used by Paul and others in speaking of the Easter appearance is different. They do not say; “We have seen Jesus again”,  but “we have seen the Lord and worshiped Him.”
Even those who proclaim  the implications of Easter in their lives  — Blessed Mother Teresa or John Paul II, who will be canonized as saint April  27 —stammered  to articulate its meaning. Easter ” is the ultimate threshold between history and mystery.”
“Doesn’t the same thing happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life?,” Pope Francis asked in an earlier Easter Sunday homily.  We don’t understand. We don’t know what to do.
“Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. Instead, we cower like the apostles (on Easter morning).  We would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to We are afraid of God’s surprises;
What was a simple act (by Mary Magdalene and the women) of  trying  to anoint the Crucified’s  body – turned into , a  life-changing event. “Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind.”
“How often does Love have to tell us: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… And that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!”
Juan L. Mercado is a veteran journalist who syndicates commentaries to community newspapers while writing columns for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.