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The Surprise of Easter

By Fr. Randy Sly
March 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

To make sure that all mankind knows that it is not over but actually just beginning, God has an Easter bombshell. While we may have been able to anticipate the wondrous joy of a day of resurrection, the first Easter was a complete surprise.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed!

What a wondrous day this is - it is full of triumphant language, victory and hope. In the Eastern Church they have a one stanza hymn called a "Troparion" that they sing on Easter. It declares: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and, on those in the tombs, bestowing life.

During Lent and especially during Holy Week we were excited in anticipation of our great Easter celebration. For some of us, it is the sheer exhilaration of being able to eat chocolate any time we want! But there is also the delight at turning the lights back on regarding our faith. We sing the Gloria again; we talk more about His resurrection along with His passion.

Remembering back to Good Friday, we know that one of the last things our Lord said was, "It is finished." He didn't mean "I'm finished. defeated. it was a nice try but I ended up here." He meant that our redemption is completed. His sacrificial work upon the cross has accomplished His mission.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in his book "Death on a Friday Afternoon," writes, It is finished yet time goes on. It is not over. Through all time, the cross point is the point of entry into His life of love, for that life and that love fill all time.

To make sure that all mankind knows that it is not over but actually just beginning, God has an Easter bombshell. While we may have been able to anticipate the wondrous joy of a day of resurrection, the first Easter was a complete surprise.

St. Maximus the Confessor:  Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; he has renewed the earth through the members of his Church now born again in baptism, and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth.

Christ is risen. His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the saints. And so David the prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Easter festival: Rejoice and be glad, he cries, on this day which the Lord has made.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Today's message will have a long introduction with a very short message. Let's take a look at the surprises of Easter.

The first surprise takes place early in the morning. The stone is rolled away.

This was not just a small stone, but a disc-shaped rock that was rolled in front of the door to the tomb. It was around 6 feet in diameter and weighed approximately 4,000 pounds. It was rolled in front of the opening in an inclined groove. Rolling downhill to cover the entrance was one thing - but rolling it uphill would be something much harder!

Not only was there a stone but a seal - which was a cord stretched across the rock and fastened on either side with sealing clay. To remove the seal would mean certain death.

The entrance was also guarded by Roman soldiers, who must remain at their post or face execution for dereliction of duty. All together, it would be most impossible for a group of zealots to open the tomb and steal the body.

When Mary Magdalene and the other women arrived early in the morning they found this stone is out of the way and the entrance to the tomb is open! Matthew indicates that a great earthquake took place as an angel rolled it away and the guards were passed out on the ground. What a spectacle! They find the tomb empty! Jesus is not there. This is strange.

And now the second surprise: As they ran to tell the apostles, they encountered two angels in white. John puts this in as a flashback after the section we just read, while the other accounts keep things in order.

The angels said to the women, Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.

His teachings must have started to rush back through their minds, how he said this would happen. "He had told us," they may have thought, "but we didn't understand!"

Then comes the third surprise. Matthew and Mark record that the women encounter the resurrected Jesus as they are on their way back to inform the disciples of what has happened. He tells Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

They were met with unbelief by the disciples, except for Peter and John who ran to the tomb. John stopped at the entrance, but Peter, who was trailing, ran straight in.

Encounters with the resurrected Christ changed everything. After meeting the resurrected Jesus, the women quickly ran to tell the disciples. After meeting the resurrected Jesus, Thomas the doubter, who wanted to put his finger in the marks of the nails, cried out, "My Lord and my God!" After meeting the resurrected Jesus, the hearts of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus burned, recognizing him as he broke bread.

The surprise of Easter eventually set the whole world ablaze with the glory of God. A private belief soon became a public faith.

So, let's get to the message. It is very brief and comes from St. Paul's letter to the Romans. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

The resurrection of Christ confirms His act of redemption - that our sins are forgiven by the blood of the cross. The resurrection also conforms us more to him as His resurrection grace is now working in us. He told us he would not leave us alone but would send "another comforter," the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing we face in life that is more powerful than the resurrection. There is no sin too great that he cannot roll the stone away from the tomb that surrounds our hearts and breathe in new life. There is no circumstance too insurmountable for his grace to penetrate our hearts and give us new hope.

The surprise of the first Easter has become an endless gift of resurrection life to all who desire to partake. We can become "a new creation in Christ," as St. Paul tells us, where "the old has passed away and the new has come."

Easter is a call to all of us. It is a call to those who have no faith, have wandered away from their faith or have allowed their faith to dim. The resurrected Christ is inviting you to come back and drink deeply of His grace and forgiveness. You can have that new life.

It is also a call for those who are walking faithfully with Him. He is inviting us to come in closer, to experience His love in a deeper way and abide in Him that we can more abundantly bear the fruit of His love in our lives.

So there is an Easter invitation for all of us. As Jesus said to the Church at Laodicea in the Book of Revelation, "Behold, I stand at the door and know. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with Me."

This is the Easter call for all of us.

During the time of Communist rule in the Soviet Union, there was a Russian Communist leader named Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. In his day, he was considered a powerful a man. He had taken part in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, was editor of the Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda and was a full member of the Politburo, the chief ruling committee in the Communist party..

In the 1930's he was sent from to Kiev to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism and the beauty of communism. Addressing the crowd, he aimed his heavy artillery specifically at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.

An hour later he was finished and looking out on the crowd, he was convinced he had destroyed their faith and dismantled any resistance to communism. He said defiantly to the crowd, "Are there any questions?" This was followed by a deafening silence.

Then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right then finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder from the entire assembly: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"

So, my brothers and sisters, CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

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Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.

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