“Christos Anesti, Christ has risen”
As I grow older, I feel that more and more of our fellow citizens enjoy the Easter holiday from Good Friday through to Easter Monday without a thought as to what lies behind it. As I cycled through a very crowded City on Friday evening, it seemed like any other Friday, except that maybe the people were in a more celebratory mood because of the extended holiday.
So when we as people of faith gather as a community to commemorate the death of our Lord and, this morning, to celebrate his resurrection, we are doing something that’s increasingly unfashionable, counter-cultural even.
At the same time, we know that we are addressing the truths that are the foundation upon which our civic socity is built. If those truths and principles are forgotten, neglected, or ignored, our society will disintegrate into meanness, selfishness, lack of compassion and hope in the face of suffering, and widespread despair.
On Good Friday, we saw Jesus stand alone, betrayed and abandoned, to suffer an appalling death because the values to which his whole life and ministry gave expression challenged the prejudices and comfort of those in power in the situation of his time. He drew attention to the plight of the poor and said that they were particularly precious to God; he reached out to those on the margins: those with leprosy, foreigners like the Samaritans, widows; he healed on the Sabbath because he believed that the Sabbath was made for human beings and for enhancement of life, not the other way round; he threw money-changers out of the Temple because he believed that commerce, profit, should take second place to the true worship of God.
All these things made him deeply unpopular because they exposed the meanness of those whose comfort depended on leaving things as they were. Those who brought about the failure of justice that led his death, mocked him as hung upon the cross, because they thought they had finally got the upper hand, got rid of this troublemaker for good.
What we are celebrating this morning is that God had other plans. God wasn’t going to let his saving intervention into our world in the person of his Son come to nought. God raised Jesus from the dead and with that affirmed and vindicated all that he had died for.
The women, especially the heroic and faithful Mary Magdalene, and the male disciples who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning did not see the risen Lord—that would come later. What they found was a mysterious emptiness that at first caused them great distress. Not only have they lost, in a terrible way, their living Lord; now even his body has been taken from them before they could give it the rite of anointing prescribed in their Jewish culture.
Sometimes, however, an emptiness on the human side is precisely a sign and indication that God has taken over and is at work in a wonderful, divine way.
So this emptiness in the tomb is not a barren or devastating emptiness. It is not a sign that grave robbers or the authorities in some further exercise of cruelty have removed Jesus’ body. It is a sign, as the angel explains, that Jesus has been raised from the dead on the third day, exactly as he had foretold.
There is plenty of cause for emptiness in our hearts at the present time: the pandemic lingers and leaves few lives untouched. Above all, the terrible news from Ukaine and the revived threat of even nuclear exchange does cast us down—not to mention more personal experiences of loss and absence of loved ones around the Easter table.
The disciples who experienced the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb soon discovered that it was an emptiness that God had filled in a wonderful way when they met the risen Lord. They became, as the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles assures us, the witnesses to the fact that he has been raised. They spread that message and the hope that it brought around their world. From them it passed on down the generations, right down to us. For our Greek brothers and sisters it has become a greeting, Christos anesti, “Christ has risen”. When they meet each other, they say, “Christos anesti”, a wonderful way of sharing and reinforcing their common faith.
But Easter for us is more than simply a belief that Christ has been raised. It is a commitment to a way of life that reflects the values for which he lived, died, and was raised by God. That is what we affirm when, in place of reciting the Creed, we recite our baptismal vows. Our baptism commits us to live as individuals and in community the life we have in Christ, allowing his divine love to well up within us and find expression in our lives.
So, although many, perhaps most, of our fellow citizens will enjoy the Easter holiday, with little or no appreciation of what it is all about, we who are here this morning can sustain them with our faith, bearing witness by the way we live and speak, that “Christos Anesti, Christ has risen”—and in that lies hope.
Brendan Byrne, SJ
St James, Hoppers Crossing North,
17 April, 2022