April 1, 2018
The Paschal Mystery of the Resurrection
Dear brothers and sisters,
Christ is risen, He is truly risen!
I greet you all gathered here, around the empty tomb of Christ, the “sign” that throughout two thousand years announces the resurrection and the life.
I greet the bishops and priests who come from around the world and who today join with our Church in celebrating together the Paschal Mystery of the Resurrection. I greet all the civil and religious authorities, the Consuls General and all those who are following by way of television: may the Paschal Mystery of Christ be for all the passage to a new life!
Today’s Gospel of John brings to fulfillment a promise that starts from its first pages right through the entire Gospel. Jesus promises His disciples and those who believe in Him what no man could promise to another. Jesus promises Life.
He said this for the first time to Nicodemus, when he affirmed that it is truly necessary that the Son of man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him has eternal life (Jn 3:14-15). He repeated it to the Samaritan woman, speaking of the thirst of each person and saying that whoever drinks this water that He gives will never thirst but will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life (Jn 4:13-14). To the king’s official who asks Him to heal his son who is ill in Capharnaum, Jesus promises “Your son will live!” (Jn 4:51).
This same promise is repeated many times in the long diatribes with the Pharisees: “whoever listens to my words and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” (Jn 5:24). The long discourse in the synagogue of Capharnaum (Jn 6) is the promise of a bread that nurtures for eternal life. There is almost no chapter in John where this promise does not resonate, in its various nuances. In Jesus’ farewell discourses to His disciples (Jn 14-17), this promise takes on a clearer and a more defined aspect and outline, it takes on the element of full communion, that between Jesus and the Father. A relationship of love, of a mutual gift of life; a relationship that does not close in on itself, but opens to all believers, called to enter and live in this same flow of life.
It is not a new promise, but an echo of an old promise, which runs all through the Old Testament and the entire history of salvation, and keeps our history open to the expectation of fulfillment; it keeps it open to hope. So many times this promise seemed to get lost in the darkness of the people’s infidelity, in forgetfulness, in the impossible of history. But every time, despite our infidelity, the promise returned to sound again.
Still today, we see that Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb (Jn 20:1-9) to weep over an unfulfilled promise: He Who promised Life lies in a sepulcher, a prisoner of death, for three days. This time, all hope seems finished. But, when it is still dark, Mary sees that it is not so, that something new has happened, that history is not ended, that the tomb is no longer closed.
The promise of life, indeed, could only be realized if death too had been conquered. And there was no other way to overcome the obstacle of death by crossing it completely, until emerging victoriously, opening a way for all. As long as this had not happened, the promise of life could not be kept: death was there to remind that it had the power to say “no.” And no one could escape it. But this morning, the first day of the week, it is also the first day of a new era. It is the era when one can live without fear of death, through which one can truly and always trust in the promise of life. That is the Paschal Mystery. That is Easter.
On this Easter morning, we do not yet read of any encounter of the Risen Lord with His disciples. But we do read of an Easter faith: Mary runs to inform the brothers; and the disciple who arrives second enters the tomb, sees and believes (Jn 20:8).
What does he see? He does not yet see the Risen One, but he no longer sees death: death is no more. Then, we can genuinely believe that the Risen One will come, as He promised. The Risen Lord is the One Who now can always arrive, because He is alive and no longer limited by death.
Today’s Gospel teaches us that two attitudes are necessary to enter this newness of life.
Like the women of the Gospel and the disciples, also for us, it is necessary to start entering the tomb, that is, going there where death reigned, and where we still see signs of its presence. Then the eye of faith is necessary; that is, an eye capable of looking at life in the light of the promise. It’s a way of recalling the promise of Life that attracts us.
This is my Easter wish to you this year. Not to fear death, not to run away from the Tomb, but to set out on a journey, and to go without fear to one’s tombs, the places where death seems to reign. Our times are marked by death. We see it everywhere around us. Life has little value in our parts. Here one dies easily.
We see this around us, in surrounding countries, and we also see it at home. I do not want to repeat again the usual litany of death that envelops us, like the linens that wrapped the body of Jesus. We know well by name the wars and political conflicts.
But what we witness is only the consequence not the origin of death. Even before the conflicts and the tensions occur, the shadow of death is the cynical use of power that decides the destiny of entire peoples, that decides wars and sends thousands of people to die and that creates conflicts and tensions. Death is sowing mistrust and hatred. Death is the frustration that leads to having no more hope in true life, that leads to stop dreaming. The shadow of death also believes that one’s family cannot live reconciled; that our community has no future; that our lives, in short, are forever marked.
Easter is entering there, into those sepulchers, those wounds of ours and experience that those sepulchers, those wounds, deep down, are not life-threatening. So we can realize that we were only closed in our little cenacles, like the disciples, within fears.
Easter is the ability to come back and look at our history in the light of the promise of life that takes place today. Yes, today, at Easter, we announce a Life that death can no more extinguish. We proclaim a hope that already inhabits us and gives us the strength to run outside our tombs and declare the life that has conquered us.
The Empty Tomb of Christ may not be the final stage of our journey, but the springboard from which to start again, full of hope, life, and joy. It is the testimony of so many that in every part of the world and also in our ecclesial community, continue to live life passionately and fearlessly and so testify to belong to the Risen Lord, even when they are rejected or killed.
So, we ask this gift for one another, to be authentic announcers of a Life that never dies.
Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
+Pierbattista Pizzaballa Apostolic Administrator