The Easter victory
“I am…the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever” (NRSV, Revelation 1:17,18)
Today we catch the reflection of the thrilling joy which burst upon the apostles that Resurrection Day and scattered all their griefs.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday had been almost unbearable. In helpless agony of mind they had forced themselves to witness the appalling torture which their Lord and Master had endured on Calvary, nailed up upon the Cross of terror and shame, and left there to hang and to die. And, as if that were not enough, they had their own shameful part in the dreadful business to look back upon: one of themselves had betrayed him, a second had denied him, all had deserted him.
Like them we too – during Lent and especially Holy Week – have been pondering our Saviour’s Passion and death and the sinful state of our own souls in the sight of God. The song of Alleluia was stilled and the flowers taken away. And now all of a sudden the whole scene is transformed by the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ – that public proclamation of his victory over evil and over death – and all is bright and joyous, just as all was bright and joyous for the apostles that first Easter Day.
Their twofold despair – at the way evil seemed to have got the better of both their Master and themselves – that despair was swept irresistibly away. It now dramatically dawned on them that the Crucifixion, the ultimate weapon of the forces of evil, had been turned against those very forces by Our Lord; for he had used it to expose their utter failure to accomplish his moral and spiritual downfall.
They had striven to disrupt his hitherto undisturbed relationship with God by shattering both his love for his Heavenly Father for willing that he should suffer, and also his love for sinful humankind with whose salvation that suffering was inseparably linked. Yet in the end what the Crucifixion actually accomplished was to reveal that his twofold love was unconquered and unconquerable in spite of all that evil could do to him. So the powers of evil fell back baffled and broken, like a wild and stormy sea, which having spent all its fury in vain against a mighty rock, sinks and ebbs with the ebbing tide.
But more than that, Our Lord’s now proved supremacy over evil assured the apostles that their failure and their downfall were neither final nor beyond remedy. And the same is true of us in our turn. Only our sins can separate us from God, and we in ourselves are utterly powerless to shake ourselves free of them.
“Forgive us our trespasses” is our plea in the Lord’s Prayer – and with good reason, because we cannot confer forgiveness on ourselves, that is to say, we cannot put right our relationship with the all holy God once it has gone wrong. “Deliver us from evil”, we pray – because we cannot deliver ourselves, we cannot achieve our own salvation. Only the sinless and victorious Christ can do that, by bestowing on us his forgiveness for the past and his spiritual power for the future.
So all our hope of victory over the evil within ourselves is pinned on the Resurrection, which is the guarantee that Christ is a living Christ, the living Lord of today. As St Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 15:17). And in that case our sins of thought and of word and of act, on which this Lent has focused our attention, they would clutch us, and keep us from God for ever. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 15:20), conquering and to conquer not only for us but also in us.
But our Easter joy is not confined the conquest of evil. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,” St Paul goes on to say, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 15:19). What indeed could be more cruel, more futile, than for victory to be within our grasp only to be snatched away by the hand of death? But Christ, by his Resurrection, has conquered not only evil but death itself.
For God the Father, in response to Christ’s sinless perfection, reversed his Son’s condemnation and death at the hands of human beings by raising him from the dead. So his perfect life with his Father on earth was resumed and continued with him in Heaven. And it is Easter Day which reveals to us the reality and fullness of that heavenly life.
The Risen Christ was even more his true self than he was during his earthly mission, for then his human body had hindered and restricted his activity. But now that selfsame Body raised from the dead above this earthly level of existence, was radiant with serenity and glory; and so too was the risen and supernatural life he now enjoyed.
We perhaps think of death as a near-calamity and of the next life as lacking the essentials that make any life worth living. The disciples probably thought exactly the same on Good Friday, but they viewed the matter very differently on Easter Day when their eyes were opened to the truth.
From that moment onwards they knew, with a confidence born of the evidence of their own eyes and ears, that death was the gate through which they would pass to their own joyful resurrection, and then the risen life of Jesus would be their life too.
And so too can that life be ours; not indeed immediately, for to begin with the penitent and faithful soul must first go to Purgatory as did Our Lord himself on Good Friday afternoon when, as St Peter tells us, “...he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (RSV Catholic edition, 1 Peter 3:19).
But after Purgatory there will come the real life for which God made us, when the soul is clothed with a new, supernatural risen body in which it may fully share in the unimaginable joy and glory of Our Lord’s own Resurrection life. Then evil will finally be banished, death itself destroyed, and there will remain the bliss and radiance of Easter for all eternity.