Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jesus Rises to New Life

Resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Christian faith; although it is a future reality it has serious implications for the present

For us Christians Easter is a feast of joy when the defeat of the Good Friday is converted into victory. Jesus Christ overcame death and entered into a new life, a new existence, signifying that death is not the end of life, but only an entry into a new existence. Resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of the resurrection of all those who believe in him. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus gives his followers the strength and courage to face any crisis in life, including death.

Resurrection of Jesus is so foundational to the Christian faith that there are 213 references to the death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament according to a biblical author, Ryan Turner. St. Paul’s letters alone have 81 references to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There is a story about of an archaeologist who after doing research for many years in the holy land came to a strange and devastating conclusion that he found the body of Jesus Christ in the grave and he announced his discovery to the world. This news sent shockwaves throughout the Christian world.  Churches became empty; convents and religious houses were closed down and priests left their priesthood.  The whole Christian world faced the threat of its very existence. Seeing the gravity of the crisis the researcher declared that he had said a lie; he did not find the body of Jesus. The story brings to light the crucial significance of faith in the resurrection of Jesus for the followers of Jesus. That is why St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God.... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:14-17).

On the day of Easter we, the followers of Jesus, declare to the world, “An amazing man, Jesus who is the epitome of God lived an incredible life and was cruelly put to death. Afterwards - something amazing happened- he rose from the dead and lives among us”. The celebration of Easter should reaffirm our faith in Jesus in such a way that we will be able to say along with St. Paul, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?(Rom 8:35)

According to the description of the resurrection of Jesus by St. Mathew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are the first to receive the news of the risen Lord and to encounter him. They had been there at the foot of the Cross; they had been there when Jesus was laid in the tomb; and now they were receiving love's reward; they were the first to know the joy of the Resurrection. According to William Barclay, a renowned Gospel commentator, they were given three tasks.

 (i) They are urged to believe what Jesus had already predicted about his death and resurrection. (ii) They are urged to share the news with others. "Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead” is the command that came from the angel.  (iii) They are urged to “rejoice”. The word with which the Risen Christ met them is “Chairete” and its literal meaning is "Rejoice!" The implication is that the person who has met the Risen Lord must live forever in the joy of his presence from which nothing can part him anymore.

We, the followers of Jesus, also have the three responsibilities: to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, to share with others the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and lead a life of joy whatever may be the circumstance in which we are placed. We can see that the members of the early Christian communities fulfilled these responsibilities and as a result they could attract many people to their fold.

The resurrection of Jesus has serious implications for our life on earth too. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus calls upon us for a radical transformation, a transformation from exclusiveness to inclusiveness, from narrow mindedness to a broad vision, from an old way life to a new way of life. Before the resurrection, Jesus was mainly limited to a small geographical area, but after the resurrection Jesus became universal, as savior and liberator he became available to the whole world irrespective of caste, class, creed, religion, language, culture etc. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus invites us to transcend our narrow identities like language, religion and culture and embrace the broader and higher identities of humanity and the fatherhood or motherhood of God.

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus invites us for a transition from the old way of life to a new way of life as depicted by St. Paul in his letter to Ephesians (4:22-24). “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts….. and put on the new  nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” St. Paul again describes the characteristics of the old man and the new man in his letter to the Galatians (4:19-23).  The characteristics of the “old man” are immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness and the like. The Characteristics of the “new man” are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control and they are the fruits of the spirit. It will be a great contradiction if we confess our faith in the resurrected Jesus and at the same time live a life of the “old man”. Both can never go together. 

Let the celebration of Easter deepen our faith in the resurrected Jesus who is always with us, calling us and inspiring us to lead a life of resurrection, characterized by joy, peace and compassion.

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