We’ve finally arrived at Easter Sunday! I hope you’ll join me in celebrating this highest of holidays by enjoying a taste of Sacred music, Scripture, art, spiritual reading, and holiness of life:
Hymn: Jesus Christ is Risen Today
This hymn is a classic Easter hymn, but for good reason: it’s a beautiful hymn that tells the story of Easter well. It was initially a 14th century Latin hymn (Surrexit Christus hodie). This Catholic hymn was then translated into English, with a fourth verse added by Charles Wesley (co-founder of Methodism), and then set to music by the Anglican organist William Henry Monk. The resulting piece of music remains a beautiful proclamation of the Gospel:
1 Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
2 Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!
3 But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
our salvation have procured. Alleluia!
Now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia!
where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!
4 Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
praise eternal as God’s love. Alleluia!
Praise our God, ye heavenly host, Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia!
It beautifully captures what today is all about… with plenty of Alleluias to make up for all of the lost time.
Scripture: The Naked Fact of the Empty Tomb
The obvious question to ask about the Resurrection is ‘why should I believe in it?’ What evidence is there suggesting that Jesus really did rise from the dead today? The answer to that question is much bigger than this post, but an important element is the evidence of the Empty Tomb. As Acts 2 records, St. Peter got up on Pentecost – a mere fifty days after Easter – and pointed out the fact that Jesus’ (nearby) Tomb was empty. Here are the words, from St. Peter’s very first sermon (Acts 2:22-36):
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will dwell in hope. For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence.’
“Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
This Jesus whom you crucified has risen again. That’s a bold charge for at least two reasons: (1) Peter’s accusing them of a serious injustice, perhaps the worst injustice imaginable; and (2) he’s claiming that Jesus has risen from the dead, leaving behind an empty Tomb. The Tomb was right there by Calvary.
So you can’t just write the Apostles off as delusional for claiming to have seen the risen Jesus Christ. Both the friends and foes of Christianity had to grapple with the fact that, in addition to multiple independent sightings of our Resurrected Lord, the Tomb in which He was laid remained conspicuously empty from Easter morning forwards.
Religious Art: Anonymous, Resurrection
The Resurrection is a hard scene to paint. The New Testament mentions several eyewitnesses of the Resurrected Christ, but no witnesses to the Resurrection itself. When the angel rolls away the stone, the guards fall into a sort of stupor (Matthew 28:1-4), but there’s no mention of the guards or anyone else actually seeing Christ rise or emerge from the Tomb. Most painters simply add this drama, but no so with this anonymous 15th century painting. Jesus just silently emerges, victorious over sin and death, witnessed only by His Father and the angels in glory:
Spiritual Reading: Jesus’ Resurrection and Ours
One of the startling insights that St. Paul has is in 1 Corinthians 15, in which he shows how the Christian belief in the general bodily resurrection (that is, that we will all rise from the dead for Final Judgment at the end of time) is rooted in our belief in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:12, 20-21): “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [….] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”
All of this is spelled out with great clarity in the last two chapters of On the Resurrection, an ancient treatise traditionally ascribed to St. Justin Martyr (100-165).
If He [Jesus] had no need of the flesh, why did He heal it? And what is most forcible of all, He raised the dead. Why? Was it not to show what the resurrection should be? How then did He raise the dead? Their souls or their bodies? Manifestly both. If the resurrection were only spiritual, it was requisite that He, in raising the dead, should show the body lying apart by itself, and the soul living apart by itself. But now He did not do so, but raised the body, confirming in it the promise of life. Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, “You have not yet faith, see that it is I” [Luke 24:32], etc. and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily; and He ate honey-comb and fish. And when He had thus shown them that there is truly a resurrection of the flesh, wishing to show them this also, that it is not impossible for flesh to ascend into heaven (as He had said that our dwelling-place is in heaven), “He was taken up into heaven while they beheld,” [Acts 1:9] as He was in the flesh. [….]
The resurrection is a resurrection of the flesh which died. For the spirit dies not; the soul is in the body, and without a soul it cannot live. […] Considering, therefore, even such arguments as are suited to this world, and finding that, even according to them, it is not impossible that the flesh be regenerated; and seeing that, besides all these proofs, the Saviour in the whole Gospel shows that there is salvation for the flesh, why do we any longer endure those unbelieving and dangerous arguments, and fail to see that we are retrograding when we listen to such an argument as this: that the soul is immortal, but the body mortal, and incapable of being revived? For this we used to hear from Pythagoras and Plato, even before we learned the truth. If then the Saviour said this, and proclaimed salvation to the soul alone, what new thing, beyond what we heard from Pythagoras and Plato and all their band, did He bring us? But now He has come proclaiming the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men.
In other words, even prior to Christ, men held out hope that their souls would live on eternally, apart from the body. But Jesus Christ came proclaiming “the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men,” that even man’s body might be redeemed and glorified. If we lose sight of this, and its implications for the sanctity and dignity of the body, we easily fall into the trap of treating the body like a mere plaything or an object. The text continues:
For indeed it was a strange and new thing for God to promise that He would not keep incorruption in incorruption, but would make corruption incorruption. But because the prince of wickedness could in no other way corrupt the truth, he sent forth his apostles (evil men who introduced pestilent doctrines), choosing them from among those who crucified our Saviour; and these men bore the name of the Saviour, but did the works of him that sent them, through whom the name itself has been spoken against. But if the flesh do not rise, why is it also guarded, and why do we not rather suffer it to indulge its desires? Why do we not imitate physicians, who, it is said, when they get a patient that is despaired of and incurable, allow him to indulge his desires? For they know that he is dying; and this indeed those who hate the flesh surely do, casting it out of its inheritance, so far as they can; for on this account they also despise it, because it is shortly to become a corpse. But if our physician Christ, God, having rescued us from our desires, regulates our flesh with His own wise and temperate rule, it is evident that He guards it from sins because it possesses a hope of salvation, as physicians do not suffer men whom they hope to save to indulge in what pleasures they please.
Huge swaths of Catholic moral teaching are rooted in the idea that the human body (not just the soul) is made for holiness and glory, and this idea is rooted in belief that we will be reunited with our bodies at the Last Day, and that idea is rooted in the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead as the first-fruits, a sort of model for us to follow at the end of time.
Saint of the Day: Saint Peter Claver, S.J.
Saint Peter Claver (1581-1654) was a Jesuit and a Spaniard who spent some 44 years caring for the kidnapped African slaves brought over (against the pope’s wishes) to the New World. Peter signed his letters “Peter, the slave of the negroes for ever.” He is believed to have baptized over 300,000 slaves. When Pope Leo XIII wrote to the bishops of Brazil to urge the abolition of slavery, he included a call for “apostolic men” to dedicate their lives for the good of the slaves, with St. Peter Claver as their model and guide:
In the meantime, while by a more strenuous application of ingenuity and labor new roads are being made, and new commercial enterprises undertaken in the lands of Africa, let apostolic men endeavor to find out how they can best secure the safety and liberty of slaves. They will obtain success in this matter in no other way than if, strengthened by divine grace, they give themselves up to spreading our most holy faith and daily caring for it, whose distinguishing fruit is that it wonderfully flavors and develops the liberty “with which Christ made us free.”(26)
We therefore advise them to look, as if into a mirror of apostolic virtue, at the life and works of St. Peter Claver, to whom We have lately added a crown of glory.(27) Let them look at him who for fully forty years gave himself up to minister with the greatest constancy in his labors, to a most miserable assembly of Moorish slaves; truly he ought to be called the apostle of those whose constant servant he professed himself and gave himself up to be. If they endeavor to take to themselves and reflect the charity and patience of such a man, they will shine indeed as worthy ministers of salvation, authors of consolation, messengers of peace, who, by God’s help, may turn solicitude, desolation, and fierceness into the most joyful fertility of religion and civilization.
Jesus Christ is risen, Alleluia!