Saturday, April 19, 2014

Death has been Defeated

Easter Sunday 2014

For many, Easter Sunday morning mass seems like a big liturgical let-down especially when compared to the elaborate richness of the vigil mass the night before. There is nothing of the dramatic juxtaposition of light and darkness, nor the marvelous series of readings chosen to give us a glimpse of the width and breadth of salvation history, nor the exhilarating experience of witnessing the entry of new members into the Church as they celebrant the Paschal sacraments of initiation. Easter Sunday morning mass, by comparison, seems to the average person like any other ordinary Sunday mass with just a few innovative twitches. Although, it cannot match the solemn grandeur of the vigil celebration, Easter Sunday still boasts of a liturgical gem which can only be found in the mass of the day – it is the Easter Sequence which you had just heard and sung before the Gospel Acclamation.

The second stanza of the hymn goes like this “Death with life contended; combat strangely ended! Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.” What a terrific image! Most commonly if we speak about people defeating death, we mean that they came close to dying but did not, probably because they fought to stay alive. Christ, however, died. He really died! He did not feign death nor came to near-death encounter. He truly, really died! But in death, He defeated death in a more definitive way than by staying alive when his life was threatened. He defeated death by dying and coming back to life by his own power.

Jesus Christ travelled the roadways of cruelty, injustice, and agony, on his way to do battle on death’s own turf. By dying he gave death every possible advantage over him. His friends and followers on that day only knew that he was gone to the place of death. They did not understand that he was there to do battle. He had descended to the darkest of places so that he could shine his light into all its otherwise hopeless corners. The story of the resurrection is therefore the story of the outcome of the greatest battle ever fought. Jesus Christ, Life’s own Champion, won the battle that day, and on the first Easter he emerged as victor with great glory. He defeated death’s despair, and transformed death itself: no longer hopeless, it was now, for those who long to see God, the doorway into his unveiled presence and the full realisation of his life, love, and indescribable goodness. It was the greatest redemptive and restorative act of all history. According to St Melito of Sardis, Christ declares through his resurrection that he has “destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.”

It is true that a large part of society does not fear death anymore, not because of their belief in the resurrection. On the contrary, society often lives as if death were inexistent and the resurrection useless. We toy with the idea of immortality brought about by technological advancement, just like in the recent movie ‘Transcendence.’ We have sanitised death and have made it the butt of jokes and the stuff of comedies. And yet there is nothing as daunting as the mystery of death as Church records and daily newspaper reports show. We live as if death were inexistent precisely because the fear of death remains pervasive, particularly for those who are ill or elderly, despite our efforts to defeat it with various methods; it consumes our peace and fills our souls with an unjustifiable anguish, constant uncertainty making it intolerable. To cope with ennui, that perennial feeling of listlessness, we live in denial of death. You remember the old expression that claims that the only things we can be sure of in life are ‘death, disappointment and taxes’. In fact, we can act to overcome our disappointments and cope with taxes – but death is the one thing we have no power over, despite recent advances in technology.

But our Lord’s resurrection puts an end to our uncertainties.  Death no longer cripples us.  It is no longer the inevitable end of our existence.  The tomb stone no longer covers our existence in an eternal silent.  The massive rock that covered the entrance to Our Lord’s tomb has been removed and Christ has emerged triumphant, victorious over death.  For those who followed in his footsteps, the fear of death disappeared to be replaced with the infilling of joy and hope.

So what does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us today?  Jesus’ resurrection proves that once and for all death has been defeated.  Whilst we know one day we will die, we know also that there is life beyond death.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection there is the promise of sins forgiven. On the cross Jesus paid in full the penalty of our sin. Through his death and resurrection Jesus has dealt with the sins that mar our relationship with God and with one another.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection we can have the promise of forgiveness, and fresh start with God.  Jesus offers all those who come to him new life, life as only God can give – life with meaning and purpose, because Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” 

We live in the span of history between God’s convincing defeat of the powers of death, and their full and final destruction. The resurrection offers compelling proof that the powers of death are no match for God’s authority. Their weakness has been exposed, their ultimate threat disarmed. While the powers of death have been defeated they have not yet been destroyed. For a time they retain residual power and influence in this world. Indeed, many still cling to greed, domination, force and the threat of death as the best tools for protecting self interests. But its power has been diminished by the memory of its indisputable defeat at Easter. Its invincibility has been exposed.

Today, in the face of war, famine, dispossession, occupation, injustice and all that feels unfair, we cry out to God to act quickly and decisively to destroy what remains of death’s powers. But God waits patiently, offering every opportunity for the enemies of the to come to their senses and embrace the ways of God’s kingdom.

And we must wait too; but not passively. By our words and actions we boldly announce God’s Easter victory over death – light has triumphed over darkness, truth over falsehood, love over hate, nonviolence over violence and the way of service over the way of domination. In God’s new order, distress, sickness, death, displacement, domination and violence will no longer hold sway. They will be replaced by joy, good health, long life, secure dwellings and right relationships. Like Moses, we may not live to see God’s promise fulfilled in our life time. But Easter gives us a bird’s eye view of the new heaven and earth that God is creating.
Death has been defeated! Death will be destroyed! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

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