Our Second Pandemic Easter
By MICHAEL SIS
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of San Angelo
This is our second Easter during the Coronavirus pandemic. We have had our share of troubles over the past year. Most of us know people who died with COVID. Many have lost jobs. Families have struggled with virtual schooling. In the midst of so much hardship, it is good to ponder what Easter is all about.
The real meaning of Easter is not about bunnies, chocolates, baskets, or bonnets. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was brutally tortured and crucified, and he died hanging on a cross. His followers felt lost and dejected. Their hopes had been dashed. It seemed at the moment that Jesus had been conquered by death.
Then, very early on Easter Sunday morning, he was resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the central truth of the first Christian community. After his resurrection, more than five hundred people had direct experiences of the reality of the resurrected Jesus.
His body was transformed and glorified, with new properties. It was somewhat different, and somewhat the same. He was not a ghost. He had a real, authentic body. He could carry on a conversation with people. He could prepare a fire and grill fish for breakfast. He still bore the marks of his torture and crucifixion – they could see the wounds in his hands, feet, and side.
He was not limited by time or space. He could pass through locked doors. Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him until they were halfway through dinner.
Jesus Christ was not just resuscitated. Resuscitation is simply bringing a body back to ordinary earthly life. That’s what Jesus had done to Lazarus, to Jairus’ daughter, and to the young man of Nain. That’s what doctors can sometimes do in hospitals – resuscitate a human body, bring it back to life. In those cases, the body is not glorified, and the person will eventually die again.
The resurrection of Jesus was different. It was not just a return to the same way his body had been before. In the incarnation, God humbled himself to become a human being, to enter the human condition. Fully human, Christ shared in the suffering and dejection of humanity, feelings that many of us have experienced more acutely over the past year. Yet, in the resurrection, Christ’s humanity entered into the glory of God. His human body and human soul were reunited in a glorified state that will live forever.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source and hope of our own future resurrection when, at the end of history, our human soul and our human body will be reunited. Our eternal destiny is to be glorified like Jesus was. The Letter to the Colossians says, “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
Though they experienced their own doubts, trials, and suffering, the followers of Christ were transformed in their outlook when they encountered Jesus after his resurrection. No longer were they dejected or lost. They had confidence in God’s power to transform seemingly hopeless situations into something new and more beautiful.
People who live with faith in the resurrection trust in God’s ability to take a situation that was dull, grey, and lifeless, and bring it to full, living color. Because of what happened on Easter morning, we believe that, even in a situation where things have fallen apart and all seems lost, God is still with us. God never abandons us. Moreover, God’s grace gives us the strength and perseverance necessary to transform suffering that may seem meaningless into opportunities to grow in virtue and faith. For example, through my pain and brokenness, I can pray for God’s grace to make me a more compassionate person. My fears can become an occasion to grow into a deeper trust in God. I can offer my suffering to God on behalf of others who may be in greater need. Ultimately, the shame and tragedy of the crucifixion does not have the last word. God has the last word, his victory is eternal, and he allows us to participate in his resurrection.
Envisioning life after the Coronavirus pandemic is not simply a matter of expecting to return to the state of things exactly as they were before. Rather, as with any other suffering or trials that we may encounter, it is about being open to something new and even better, through the miraculous power of the God of surprises. In the Book of Revelation, God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Whether it is a case of illness, joblessness, relationship problems, financial loss, or painful personal loss, God can take any situation and find a way to use it to his glory and our salvation. The real message of Easter is about opening ourselves to the transformative power of God’s new life, every single day.