Christ is Risen! Indeed, he is Risen! Easter Sunday marks the highest point in the entire liturgical calendar, for we celebrate a truth that can never cease to amaze us: Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered the grave. In fact, the entirety of the Catholic faith depends critically on his bodily resurrection. For as St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).
But what does the resurrection really mean? It does not mean that Jesus merely came back from the dead in the same way that he miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11). After all, where is Lazarus now along with his sisters, Martha and Mary? They, too, returned to the grave as we all will someday. If that is the case, what did Jesus’ resurrection give us? What exactly are we celebrating? What is the true cause of our joy?
The glorified bodily resurrection of Christ transforms the entire meaning of life, of human history, and of our own personal lives. Only a few centuries before Christ, the great Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato, wrestled with the purpose of human life, the stark reality of death and hope for the immortality of the soul. They insisted that it is folly to live an “unexamined life,” that man was made for the greatness of virtue, and that, curiously, the question of justice is never quite settled in this world. Plato suggests this idea through his famous “Myth of Er” at the end of the Republic, in which a soldier visits the underworld and sees that on the “right” the just are rewarded and on the “left” the wicked punished.
The advent of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection, means that the Creator, “Lord of Heaven and Earth,” desires something that the wisest philosophers could never have imagined. The everlasting God desires union with each of us. He calls us each by name and invites us to experience, even now on earth, a real personal taste of his divine love, as we await the experience of this love in its infinite fullness. That is why St. Paul labored to proclaim this message to the Greeks: “Men of Athens . . . the unknown god which you seek, I proclaim to you!” (Acts 17:22-23). It is the risen Christ! And he calls us to something much more surprising than being men and women of virtue. He invites us to be “God’s offspring,” true sons and daughters of the Father (Acts 17:29).
The Gospels unanimously attest to the uniqueness of a woman’s role in receiving this “good news” of the Resurrection. The women arrive first at the tomb, “while it was still dark,” long before the apostles. They are the first to hear, “He is not here. He has risen, as he said” (Mt 28:6). In his commentary on these verses, Pope John Paul II says that women especially, “Show to Christ and his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity” (Mulieris Dignitatem, 16). God designed a woman’s heart to ache for spousal love, and to receive the Bridegroom’s love into her own heart. That is why, even before dawn following the Jewish Sabbath, Mary Magdalene rushed to the tomb: her heart ached for Christ, and as a result, she was the first to “receive” him. He called her by name, and her heart leapt for joy (Jn 20:16).
The joy of the resurrection for a mother is always the fruit of her “encounter” with Christ’s personal love for her. Only by first receiving the Bridegroom’s living love for her, can she proclaim it anew to her children. Her natural maternity becomes a “spiritual” maternity in the divine plan. Paradoxically, a Christian mother labors to make her house a “home” for her children while simultaneously teaching them that a Christian’s true “home” is elsewhere. As the ancient Letter to Diognetus proclaims so well, a Christian knows that in this life we are only “passing through” and that our true “citizenship” is in Heaven.
The resurrection ultimately means that Christ invites us to the eternal “wedding feast of the Lamb,” in which there will be “no more death,” no more “tears,” no more pain (Rev 21). But it also means that here and now our suffering and our labors receive new meaning. As Christ did not disdain the cross but transformed it into love, our own pain and suffering is purposeful in his plan, both for ourselves and for others, if only we unite it intimately to the heart of Christ, who aches to give himself to us and for us to receive him.
Let us then rush to him this Easter morning with hearts that ache for him, and may we be still enough to hear his voice calling us by name, that our hearts might “see” him, “cling” to him, and leap for joy (Jn 20:16).