Most people see Easter through the lens of Good Friday. This was the point of a short homily on Good Friday many years ago, given by Fr. Marty Palmer, one of my best teachers. I heard his point as this: we are often so intricately aware of the troubles of our lives, of the things we need to be saved from, that the crucifixion touches us very deeply, even though the Resurrection often remains just outside our grasp.
We have some hints about Easter, I suppose. It makes things alright again, doesn’t it? But what does that mean? And somewhere lurks the question, did he really come back to life?
If you have ever had this kind of reaction, you are like the disciples, but perhaps better off. Look at the state they must have been in. Memories of Jesus’ life had burst apart in the terrible chaos of the Passion. His teachings, for instance. “Love one another.” “Be good to those who hate you.” But now there was no Jesus to stand behind these sayings. No voice saying, “Come, follow me.” He was gone, along with everything he had taught. Their beliefs were transformed into a lie. It had to be crushing, and they were, suitably, crushed.
But there was secret news, not yet out. Love had not been defeated at all. Though everything else in Jesus could die, love could not. God lasts forever and God is love. The real meaning of life (and, need I add, of suffering and of death) at last had been revealed: love remains through it all.
How did the disciples ever get this news? It was not the stories brought by those who had actually seen Jesus and spoken with him (women). For the most part the apostles (males) did not believe these accounts. Maybe the appearance of Jesus in their midst, hair-raising as that must have been, told them. But doubting Thomas had to touch the actual wounds before he could believe. In the end it was the onrushing gift of the Holy Spirit, settling way down in their hearts, that made it all start to come clear.
They caught on, some of them, during the breaking of the bread at Emmaus. Did you see it, they might have said; that is what he did with us at the last supper! He broke bread. This is my body, he said.
They began to remember again, and for the first time to understand his last lesson for them about his life. “Love one another” was good advice but now he himself had done it—even unto death. “Turn the other cheek,” he told them, but then he said, “I gave my cheek to those who would pluck out my beard.” Wasn’t that originally in Isaiah? Well, Jesus let them pluck out his life as well. He did it because he would not betray God's love for them; his love as well.
So he will be with us always, since he is the revelation of the love of God the eternal. He will be in the bread and wine. In the Spirit. And that is what Easter means.
It will take us the rest of our lives to understand. For now let us just behold it. The rising of the sun in the East. The rising of the Son in the dawn of love, out of the dimness of death and degradation.
John Foley S. J.