Every Easter Sunday, Peter talks about the resurrection as if it were something new: “You know what has happened”, he says, “how God raised this man [Jesus] on the third day”. The recent ceremonies of the liturgy are a constant reminder of the newness which is in the risen Christ.
At the Easter Vigil, we had the blessing of new fire, to light a new Paschal Candle for this year; new holy water was; and the tabernacle is now full of freshly consecrated Hosts. It’s as if we’re beginning all over again, making all things new. And in fact all things are being made new, because in the risen Christ there is a permanent newness. The liturgy makes these changes to show that, however life may seem to go on as before, the spiritual reality is that the resurrection is a perpetual spring, an inexhaustible font of grace for the whole world.
To pagans and secularists in every age, Jesus was no doubt crucified, but life seemed to go on pretty much as before. But the spiritual reality is that the resurrection made all the difference in the world; it constituted a turning point in the history of creation. The Syriac Fathers were fond of pointing out how so many people from the beginning of time had reason to rejoice because Christ was risen from the grave.
Adam and Eve, who had been sentenced to eternal death because of their own sin, saw that sentence reversed by Christ. Noah saw that Ararat was Golgotha, where the wood of the cross was a new ark to save the human race from destruction. Abraham saw that someone greater than Isaac had actually been sacrificed. Jacob saw a Son more beloved than Joseph rescued from the pit. Moses understood now who the Paschal Lamb really was, and what he was foreshadowing when he led the children of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, which are now the waters of baptism. David knew now why he had been inspired to sing today’s responsorial psalm, “The Lord’s right hand raised me up. I shall not die, I shall live”.
These all lived under an older covenant, and they sensed what a momentous event was taking place when the Temple veil was torn in two, and the earthquake summoned them from their graves to glory. The old covenant had been fulfilled; everything was made new.
For Peter and John in today’s Gospel, it took a little longer. “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead”. But even Peter was able to say to Cornelius and his household, “To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name”. That is something new, and a new People of God was formed to proclaim the news to every age.
And yet the Church is not afraid to show the signs of her great age. During the last three days we have been assisting at ceremonies which have plunged us back into our Christian past. Some of these ceremonies have come down to us from the liturgy as celebrated by Christians in Jerusalem in the 4th century. On Good Friday we suddenly broke away from the usual English and lapsed into Greek, something like a very old monk who, in his second childhood, remembers the language of his youth. We have heard snatches of chants that would have been recognized by the early Cistercians; we have seen the survivals of ceremonies which belong to an older world than ours. Still, obstinately, the Church takes refuge in her remote past while she continues to proclaim: “Christ is risen; all things are made new”.
There will always be those who are hostile to the Church precisely because of her age. They say it has outlived its usefulness and is only kept going by sentimentality and family loyalties. People have been saying that for four hundred years; even earlier than that, it must have seemed to many that her days were numbered. And yet the Catholic Church has survived 100 crucifixions by 100 resurrections; and those who know her best know that she does not merely continue to exist; she keeps on growing. She has only to proclaim, “Christ is risen”, and all things are made new.
As with the Church, so with the individual Christian: “You were raised with Christ”, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. For Christians, there is a perpetual renewal of life, not merely from one Easter to another, but with every holy communion. Christ is risen: that news does not lose its force with age, or grow stale with repetition. Christ is risen; and life, for the Christian, is always new.