(Easter Message from the General Secretary of the Church of South India)
The resurrection of Christ, Jesus being raised from the dead, changed the lives of the disciples of Jesus. Those who believed that death was ultimate, were taught to look beyond death, those who spoke only of the end, were taught the language of eternity, those who were confined to the boundaries of the finite limitations of time and space were enabled to imagine the infinity, those who were assured of mortality were helped to envision immortality. The resurrection of Jesus which continues to transform the community of believers today, is the dawn of new hope unlimited, of immortality and life eternal. Easter is the celebration of hope.
The resurrection story is a narrative of completely unexpected, utter surprises, and therefore one of shock, disorientation and chaos. A close reading of the resurrection narratives informs us that the disciples never really believed that their Lord would return from the dead; they were sorrowful, fearful of their future, puzzled by the mystery of the death of a just man who went about doing only good. The world around them had crumbled and they were bewildered with a sense of emptiness. With the news of the stone being rolled away at Jesus’ tomb, they found themselves in a disturbing new world where anything was possible. The message of Jesus’ resurrection is a sprout of imagination, a bud of new possibilities, a shoot that promises a great new beginning.
In the resurrection narratives, on the third day, the women led by Mary Magdalene went to the tomb with perfumes for embalming, but they were in for a surprise: a strong earthquake and the stone being rolled away and they could meet up with an angel of the Lord (Mt.28:6). The angel corrected their perspective “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk.24:5). Hope is about correcting our perspective, it is about awakening to God’s surprise. It is about recognizing the reality and learning to channel all our energies and strength in the right place and direction. God does new things and helps us to look forward. God awakens us to a world of new possibilities which we never thought existed and resurrects us to be a new creation.
In John’s Gospel, on listening to Mary Magdalene’s narration, Peter and the beloved disciple began a run of exploration and research, of stopping, stooping and peering into the tomb, that left them amazed. Whereas Simon Peter could see the strips of cloth and the piece of cloth that had been used to cover Jesus’ face, both rolled up and kept in a place, he could not look beyond the tomb. However, it is said that the beloved disciple, when he saw it, he believed that Jesus was risen. Hope is looking beyond what is seen; perceiving and recognizing the significance of what is seen. It is believing in seeing the unseen and the conviction of things not seen.
Mary Magdalene in her encounter with the risen Jesus, when he revealed himself to her, wanted to hold on to Jesus. But Jesus commanded her not to hold on to him (Jn.20:17). It is in letting loose what we cherish, what we love most, that we find greater things, we are empowered to envision a new world. Mary began to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn.20:18). Only in letting go, are our lives transformed and we begin to celebrate new life. Only in letting go, we see a new future breaking in, the promise of renewal encountering us and enabling us to celebrate in hope. Hope is seeing with new eyes, recognising and responding to the familiar, yet demanding voice and being filled with the surprising and liberating power of life in all its fulness.
As two of Jesus’ disciples were going to the village of Emmaus, a stranger joins them in their journey as an accompanier. He challenges them with a question, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” and “What are you so concerned about?” (Lk.24:17). The dimness of vision, the dullness of mind and the coldness of heart obscure our sight and understanding. At times, our co-pilgrims and accompaniers help us to analyse the meaning of the happenings around us. They help us to look into the things we are concerned with from a new perspective, from an objective view of an outsider and thus helps us to understand their meaning and significance. Hope is understanding the designs behind and the designs that evolve. In our analysis, we begin to discern a new future, a new hope emerges and we encounter a new world. The stranger, as he sat down at the village of Emmaus, through the act of breaking of the bread, provided them an epiphany: a new world broke in, a new vision was given. It is astonishing how in the very ordinary, we suddenly see a glimpse of God. Discerning the extraordinary and encountering the epiphany moment in simple and ordinary symbols of our life, is hope.
When the doors were shut, as the fear for their lives engulfed the disciples, the risen Lord appeared to them. They had perceived themselves to be secure within the walls of a closed room. (Jn.20.19) The coming of the risen Lord into the midst of the frightened and imprisoned disciples, taught them the fallacy of their concept of security. The risen Lord helped them to understand the need to go beyond walls and barriers, and find security not in the closed-ness, but in the openness. Hope is the celebration of the promise of freedom and joy in the midst of fear, doubt and despair. As the peace of the risen Lord encompassed them, they were filled with courage and strength to face the challenges of barriers and exclusion, to break the chains of bondage and slavery and demolish the walls of separation and struggle against hardship and oppression born of injustice. The power that the risen Lord breathed on them empowered them to be a forgiven and a forgiving community, (Jn.20.23) a community built on new relationships based on love, mercy and justice. Hope is the dawn of a new world community.
Thomas, the disciple who was ready to go with Jesus to Jerusalem and die (Jn.11:16), was doubtful and insecure in his faith as he heard of the resurrection experience from the other disciples. He wanted a living proof, a sign, and to put his finger on Jesus’ wounds. (Jn.20.25) As the risen Lord appeared and offered him the proof, Thomas exclaimed “My Lord and my God” (Jn.20:28). The episode reminds us that the resurrection does not promise a world without scars. Instead, the scars of suffering and pain are borne along with the joys. Hope is celebrating the promise of life everlasting in the midst of the scars of sin, decay and death. In remembering the scars of the past, we celebrate the new life in the present. Hope interprets the past, gives new meaning to the present, and makes the future contemporary.
When the disciples, seven of them ventured into the sea and toiled all night but caught nothing, the risen Lord came to meet them in their workplace, near their fishing boat and challenged them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat (Jn.21:4-6). The hope of resurrection comes to meet us in the spheres of our workplace, when we are tired, when we do not reap the benefits of our toil. When we have no perspective, hope comes as a call to look at our work, at our toil differently: to understand the other side. Hope surprises us with the unexpected and makes us to recognize the one who encounters, accompanies and provides us with new perspectives in our workplace. As the risen Lord prepared a breakfast for his tired, but excited disciples on the shore, it gave a foretaste of the coming reign of the risen Lord. In the hope of the resurrection, we hear the rumbling of a new life, in the midst of the struggles of the poor and oppressed, coming upon us to transform us, manifesting the power of the broken body in the wounded and broken communities.
In our daily struggles may we be given grace to encounter and recognise the risen Lord, and may we be blessed to turn each day into a celebration of Hope!
Rev. Dr D. Rathnakara Sadananda
General Secretary, CSI