The Lord your God is in your Midst, a warrior who gives victory He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love. (Zeph. 3:17)
These words are taken from the Prophet Zephaniah, and they can speak to us on this Easter Sunday morning of the great victory of our God, the victory of the great warrior God who rejoices over us and he truly renews us in the most astounding way. Our God has truly brought the fruits of His battle victory to us, the victory of life over death, the victory of the renewal of our mortal nature and tragic existence that takes place in his glorified and risen body. His is the victory over Satan and death; ours is the victory of faith over doubt and the skepticism of human wisdom.
The resurrection of Christ becomes a full-fledged reality for us only with our victory of faith. As St John writes in his First Epistle:
“… for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.Who [indeed] is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4-5)
Human reason on its own buckles before this event and can only fall back like the guards in Gethsemane before the majesty of the Lord. “He is risen.” That is the message of the angels, concise, mysterious to be sure, but above all joyous beyond words. He is truly risen, and thus a whole new world is risen with Him, in Him and we are all called to be part of that new and glorious destiny of redeemed man and creation as a whole.
How strange all this is to man’s normal way of looking at this world and at the life we live here and now! Our normal human experience simply cannot be used as the basis for understanding this victory of our God and the inestimable gift it is for mankind. Jesus truly is the warrior God, but not a warrior as we normally understand that term. His battle was with Satan, our ancient adversary, and it was not fought with human weapons at all, but with his human will, his unfathomable love which steadfastly absorbed all the evil with which Satan attacked his human body and soul. The Son of God stood fast, but defenseless, before a magnitude of evil and its consequent suffering that you and I can only faintly comprehend, let alone could ever survive. He stands fast in His Father’s will that he should absorb all this evil for our sake, for the redemption of the human race, and he triumphs over all evil, over Satan, over death itself. Nothing can shake his indomitable will and its loving adherence to the will of the Father and His love for us. Jesus reverses the deadly fall of our race in Paradise, and restores the human family to God’s friendship and to mankind’s original destiny to share God’s life and happiness forever.
Jesus appears like David fighting Goliath, where Goliath has all the protective armor and deadly human weapons at his disposal, while David has no armor to protect him and just a humble sling with a few pebbles. But David slays Goliath and cuts off his head as his victory trophy. Now while Jesus is the Son of David, he does not even defend Himself with humble pebbles. Yet he defeats Satan who has all the weapons of evil at his disposal and who actually slays the defenseless warrior, sent by the Father to reverse the victory of Satan over mankind in Paradise. And again, we must see this, that He does this by his will alone, triumphing over Satanic evil by absorbing it all in his body and soul, and then despoiling Satan’s power over mankind, “decapitating” Satan’s power by restoring man’s standing before God and man’s destiny to be part of the family of God forever. This is His Victory, and ours.
The sign and actual beginning of that victory of life over death takes place on Easter Sunday morning when Jesus rises from the dead in his same human body, still bearing the marks of his battle, but no longer subject in any way to suffering, and no longer capable of dying. His risen flesh is the first fruits of the new world that his victory has created. “He is risen,” and this cry of faith through the centuries echoes in our liturgy, “Alleluia.” His glorious resurrection stands as the promise and the cause of our hope, that one day we too will be raised from the dead, never to suffer again, never to die again, forever to experience the beatitude and ecstasy that is the eternal life of a new and risen humanity.
We ought not to be surprised if much in the accounts of the encounters of the risen Lord, strike us as odd, perhaps even as somewhat confused and confusing. There is absolutely no analogy in human experience that could help us or the chosen witnesses of the Risen Lord to understand what they were seeing with their eyes and touching with their hands. These post-resurrection encounters were at once empirically witnessed events – they touched him, saw him, ate with him – and yet simultaneously a mystery beyond human understanding. They saw him, yes, they touched him, yes, but to really grasp this encounter’s truth and reality they had to have faith. They see, and simultaneously they believe. These encounters negotiate the links between time and eternity. They are very real and empirically factual events, but yet they escape man’s full understanding. Faith alone can fill the breach between Christ the Risen Lord and those who see him, and beyond their time, those who are not given that privilege, like us who believe having not yet seen.
Again, how odd it may seem to us that when the Risen Jesus comes to those first witnesses, he does not come in a blazing light, as he does later to Paul, he does not come with fleshes of lightning and peals of thunder as on Mt. Sinai to Moses. Strangely, he comes in the same humble appearance with which he first entered this world, lived among his disciples and died on the cross, bearing even the temporal marks of his crucifixion. He came in a humble mode perhaps to assure them, us, that although He is now their Risen Lord, He is still one with them, close to them, and to us, even while ascending to the heights of His Glory. His language, his humble appearance, which was mysterious but very human, was evidently meant to assure them and us of two things; he was truly risen from the dead and he was still truly man, one with them, but now in a much much more wonderful modality which they would one day also inherit. Had he come in the full glory of his risen humanity, they would have been more terrified than comforted, and they still would have had to believe in order to possess the life that He rose with and was communicating to them already here through Baptism.
When we celebrate Easter, then, ours is not to understand all of this wondrous mystery, but to believe; for only this faith will bring us a joy that the world can never take away. His is the victory over Satan, and His triumphant return is His resurrection. Ours must be the victory of faith, which will enable us one day to share His resurrection. The Lord is truly risen, alleluia, alleluia, Let our hearts and souls rejoice and sing this forever, alleluia.