Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rejoice! He is Risen!

There was a girl whose favorite movie was based on the life of Christ. Almost every afternoon, she would ask her grandmother to sit on the couch with her to watch it. During the scene of the crucifixion her eyes would well with tears as the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross. However, after Jesus had died and was placed in the tomb, she would turn to her grandmother with a broad smile and say, "Here comes the good part!"

Over the past week we have remembered the tragic events surrounding the death of Jesus - how he was condemned by his own people and put through a torturous death. However, today, Easter Sunday, we come to the "good part" of the story because death would not have the last word. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has shaken off the shackles of death and achieved for us the reward of everlasting life.

The word "gospel" means "good news". From the earliest days of our faith, the story of Jesus has been called the "good news" because it ends with his victory over death in the Resurrection. Today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles offers us one of the first Christian sermons ever preached. It is given by Peter at the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. And what is his sermon about? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead. More than anything else, believing that Jesus rose from the dead is what defined someone as a Christian.

Is the resurrection just an event that took place over two thousand years ago, or does it continue to have meaning for our lives today? How does his victory over sin and death change our lives today in the twenty-first century?

Again, it is today's first reading that gives us a clue. Unfortunately, we have read only a part of Saint Peter's sermon. If we were to read the whole passage, we would discover that, when he is done preaching, the people are so moved that the Holy Spirit descends upon them and then they are all baptized by Peter. The message is clear. It is through our baptism that the new life of the Risen Lord takes hold of our heart.

Saint Paul picks up this theme in the second reading from the letter to the Colossians. Through our baptism, we have been raised with Christ. We must now set our hearts on the things of heaven. What does that mean? It means that everlasting life is not something we reach only after death. Rather, through baptism, we are already enjoying the gift of eternal life. It will come to its fullness in us when we enter heaven, but it is a reality that is already at work in us in a hidden way through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we choose forgiveness over bitterness and belief over doubt, the new life of heaven is at work within us. Whenever we stand up for the rights of others rather than remain silent and whenever we face our difficulties with confidence that God will see us through them, the Risen Lord is alive and active in our hearts. Whenever we give of our time and money to benefit others and whenever we bring comfort to those who are suffering, the Kingdom of God is gaining another victory over despair. We must bring the Risen Lord who is alive in our hearts into the lives of everyone we meet by our words and example so that God's victory over sin and death can continue to extend itself throughout our world.

One of the Church's great saints, Saint Augustine, wrote: "We are a resurrection people and 'Alleluia' is our song!" This Easter day is the highlight of our year as Christians because the good news is centered on and revolves around the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Even so, our lives as believers must also center on and revolve around the eternal life that is ours through the sacrament of Baptism. Whether we were baptized as infants or later in life, it was the defining moment of our lives because if forever marked us and set us aside as children of God. Furthermore, it infused our soul with the Holy Spirit who is the very life of our risen Savior.

At this Mass, we will renew the vows of our Baptism. We will recommit ourselves to living the new life of faith in the resurrection through the power of the Holy Spirit. We will vow to extend God's victory over sin and death by taking up the battle against the forces in our culture which promote immorality and which undermine the dignity of every human person. And we will join with believers throughout the world in proclaiming with our lips and with our lives: Jesus Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

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