The first image that comes to mind on Easter Sunday, is that of an open door to an empty tomb. We are in a garden, very close to a small hill which was used as the execution venue for slaves and Jews. On that hill, a carpenter from Nazareth, a man by the name of Jesus, was crucified. There were with him two thieves.
Among the few words the crucified Jesus pronounced on the cross, there was a solemn promise: “Truly, truly I say to you, this very day you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23, 43). It was a great promise from a very weak man. A promise of eternal life pronounced by a dying man, vilified and sentenced to death in the harshest of manners.
In his weakness, Jesus of Nazareth continues to surprise us. He forgives his executioners: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk 23, 34). He is worried about his mother and his beloved disciple, and he gives his mother to his disciple, and his disciple to his mother (Jn 19, 26-27). He is thirsty. He is also forsaken, abandoned. In him he carries our depresssions, our sickness, our sufferings.
He is laid in a tomb, a new tomb bought by his friend Joseph of Arimathea. And on the first day of the week, the day following the Sabbath, early in the morning, devout women come to look for the corpse, to continue the anointment that had to finish hurriedly because of the Sabbath.
The stone that was covering the entrance to the tomb is rolled away. An angel told them that the Lord Jesus is not there any more. Mary Magdalene stays to weep. A gardener pronounces her name. She recognizes the Lord, but the testimony of women is a weak testimony in the Hebrew milieu. The women who go to the apostles to tell them that the Lord is risen, are not believed by some of the disciples. Two of them in fact go away from Jerusalem still wondering what really happened. They cannot believe the Gospel announcement, the new announcement of a risen Jesus.
He does not impose himself on us, he respects our freedom, and this is the greatest moment of religious freedom.
I have always been impressed by the fact that the resurrection is an event in history which is open to people who believe. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20, 29), the Lord tells Thomas who has doubted. He does not impose himself on us, he respects our freedom, and this is the greatest moment of religious freedom. The Lord in his glory does not force himself upon us. The Lord in his risen glory is an invitation to look and see the empty tomb. He leaves us free to accept faith in him or to deny him, because he is interested not in automatic, fearful and forced submission, but in a response of love and loyalty.
As we read in the Second Vatican Council declaration on religious freedom Dignitatis Humanae (1965): “In the end, when He completed on the cross the work of redemption whereby He achieved salvation and true freedom for men, He brought His revelation to completion. For He bore witness to the truth, but He refused to impose the truth by force on those who spoke against it. Not by force of blows does His rule assert its claims. It is established by witnessing to the truth and by hearing the truth, and it extends its dominion by the love whereby Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws all men to Himself.”
As I baptized a number of adults, individually, and had the opportunity in the days before baptism, to listen to their stories, I realised that they have gone through a journey, that they had met Jesus as their Saviour, that they were approaching him with humility but embracing him with love. Weak as they are, they realised they need him as their Saviour, and this is the proposal Jesus puts at Easter. Jude Thaddaeus asks him: “Why are you not showing yourself to the world but only to us?” (Jn 14, 22). The response of the Lord is that he will come to dwell in the hearts of those who believe and this will be his glory before the world.
This article was published today, 16th April 2017, Easter Sunday, on The Sunday Times of Malta. Link: www.timesofmalta.com