Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed! In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
We must never forget that we are able to look back on the Easter story and know how it ends, that Jesus has indeed risen, but to those living the story as it happened it was not the case.
Jesus' crucifixion dealt a shattering blow to his disciples. On Easter Sunday evening we find them gathered in the upper room, not daring to out.
The room was haunted by absence, and full of bittersweet memories. It was here that the Master had washed their feet and celebrated the last supper with them. But it was here too that they had sworn loyalty to him, a loyalty that didn't even see the night through. As a result of their cowardice, they were overcome with guilt.
Jesus, however, did not wait for them to come to him. He came to them instead. In one bold move he broke through the barrier that they had erected around themselves and stood amongst them.
At first they thought he was a ghost. But the risen Jesus is no phantom. He appeared to the disciples in the same body that was tortured and crucified. Yet this authentic, real body possessed new properties: it is no longer subject to the ordinary laws of nature.
Jesus’ approach was ever so gentle. He did not blame them or even scold them for failing him. He knew how they were feeling, so he didn't rub salt into their wounds. Instead, he said the simple but magical words, 'Peace be with you.'
This was no mere greeting. This was a statement of fact, not a wish. This was the fulfilment of what he said to them at the last supper: 'Peace I leave to you; my own peace I give you. A peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you' (Jn 14:27). In receiving his peace, they were assured that they had already received his forgiveness.
Then he showed them his hands and side that still bore the wound-marks inflicted during his crucifixion. Why did he do this many have often wondered? But those wound marks helped to enable them to identify Jesus as the same person who died.
On realising that it indeed was Jesus, the disciples were filled with joy and thereby another promise that he made to them at the last supper was fulfilled: ‘You are sad now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice with a joy that no one can take from you' (Jn 16:21-22).
Gradually the greatness of what had happened began to sink in: the humble Jesus had triumphed over all the evil forces that had been arrayed against him.
Death had been overcome.
Evil had been overcome.
Good had triumphed, love had triumphed, and life had triumphed.
It was clear now that the world truly had been liberated from sin and the power of darkness, they knew in that moment that their sins were forgiven, and their discipleship restored.
Then Jesus commissioned them to preach the same reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and the salvation of God to all the nations. Imbued with fortitude, those frightened disciples were able, at last, to unlock the door, and to set out for the ends of the earth.
Like the apostles we often stand within the protection of our barricades, our high walls of fear. We must allow the risen Christ to enter and speak his words of peace to us.
At every Sunday Eucharist, we relive the experience of the apostles on that evening of Easter when the risen Lord appeared to them and greeted them with the words, 'Peace be with you.'
And we must always remember that as Christians we do not just believe that Jesus rose, but that he is still alive today. Jesus is not some heroic figure of the past but is a living person.
He is not a faded memory, but a real and living presence.
Growth in our Easter faith comes not so much from analysing what evidence there is in favour of the resurrection or against it as a modern mind is often tempted to do, but rather it comes from experiencing the risen Christ in our lives, in our worship with others, and in all the wonder and splendour of this amazing world on which we live.
Let us pray that we may take the time in our lives to become aware of that living presence, to spend time in communion with it, to allow it to form and shape our lives and to share it with those who are looking but have not yet found it themselves.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Flor McCarthy S.D.B