Last night we gathered in this Cathedral in darkness. As the Paschal Candle, representing Christ, made its way through this building the light from that candle gradually transformed the darkness into light. This journey from darkness to light is similar to the journey that each one of us takes as we go through life, growing in our faith and coming closer to our God. I think it is true to say that many of us take the scenic route on our faith journey rather than the motorway. As we do we often fall into the potholes of doubt and are splashed by the waters of unbelief. Yes, we have our moments of doubt but we recognize too that the very definition of faith presumes doubt and excludes certainty.
If you ever watch Gay Byrne on The Meaning of Life you will know that the last question he poses touches on the Resurrection and on belief in life after death. The answers he gets vary greatly, as you can imagine. For some, there is no Resurrection or life after death. For others, there may be something but they are unsure of what it is. And , of course, there are those who firmly believe in the Resurrection and in eternal life.
Jesus in his lifetime was very familiar with this debate, even if he never watched The Meaning of Life on TV. The Pharisees and the Sadducees fought like cats and dogs over it. The Pharisees believed in the Resurrection and life after death. The Sadducees didn’t. The Pharisees also had a range of interpretations as to what would happen to us after death. The debate over what happens to us when we die, was as alive then as any debate might be nowadays.
St Paul wrestled with what the Resurrection could mean and in many ways gave the only answer possible. In his Letter to the people of Corinth he said: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Mirrors in his time were not the polished pieces of glass that we have nowadays. They were made of polished tin and barely gave an outline of the face looking into it. For Paul, therefore, when we talk about the Resurrection and eternal life we believe that it is there but we have only a faint idea of what it is all about.
While the Pharisees and the Sadducees continued to argue about the issue, Jesus came down firmly on the side of the Resurrection. When he met up with his friends, Martha and Mary, just after Lazarus, their brother died, the sisters, like all of us when faced with death, put the question to him about the Resurrection and eternal life. St John tells us: Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
On this Easter morning we celebrate the Resurrection. We celebrate the victory of life over death, light over darkness and hope over despair. Filled with our own doubts and our own unbelief, we come to listen once more to Jesus, as we celebrate his Resurrection from the dead. In so doing our own faith is strengthened.
Pope Francis brings the Resurrection down to earth, as it were, for us. For him, the Resurrection isn’t only about the future. It is also about the present. He says: The Good News of the Resurrection should “shine on our face, in our feelings and in our behaviour, in the way in which we treat others. We proclaim the resurrection of Christ when his light illuminates the dark moments of our existence, and we are able to share it with others; when we know when to smile with those who smile, and weep with those who weep; when we accompany those who are sad and at risk of losing hope; when we recount our experience of faith to those who are searching for meaning and happiness. And there – with our attitude, with our witness, with our life – we say ‘Jesus is Risen,’ with our soul.”
And how true these words are in the light of the events of the past week; the carnage in Brussels, the unspeakable tragedy in Buncrana and the bus crash in France and the suicide bombings in Iraq. On this Easter day we, in a sense, can accompany those who are sad and at risk of losing hope by re-echoing the Easter message, Jesus is Risen, all will be well. This is the single light which can transform the darkness of daily life into the real light – the light of Christ.
The Lord is Risen. Alleluia. Alleluia.