It is an odd thought, but it was in the devil’s greatest achievement that he suffered his greatest lost. The devil thought he had struck the shepherd. He had turned the Apostles on each other and scattered them. He turned a religious institution, the Sanhedrin, against the very Messiah they were waiting for. But amidst all of this discord, hatred, and violence, the devil lost. Death was defeated. Where O’ Death is your sting now? Never before was there such a convulsion and victory on the part of our God. That promise that he had made so long ago to Adam, when man first turned away from God, has now been fulfilled. When Adam first sinned, and turned mankind away from God and in on itself, God promised to send a redeemer to put an end to the vicious cycle that had been put into motion. That cycle of sin, of jealousy, of blame, of hatred. The cycle that tells us that we are better than God and our neighbors. For two thousand years, God has watched as mankind grew in greater hatred towards each other. Not even the flood was able to wake mankind up.
Then came the events of the past few days. Holy Thursday, when Christ was betrayed by one of his closet friends. Good Friday, when Christ was betrayed by His own people. Holy Saturday, when Christ descended into the Bosom of Abraham to visit the souls of the just. The devil thought he had won. Mankind thought they had won.
In English, the typical greeting you hear today is Happy Easter. It is unfortunate because it is easy to miss the religious significance of this Feast of Feasts with such a greeting. In many other languages, the centrality of Christ’s Resurrection is known immediately by their Easter greetings. Whether it is Resurrexit sicut Dixit! in Latin or Christos Annesti! in Greek or Christos Voskrese! in Slavonic. All mean Christ is Risen! And these greetings are immediately followed up by Indeed He has Risen! Because it is this fact that we celebrate today, the true bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead. The day that Christ finally was able to defeat sin and death. Making Christ the victor, and us the beneficiaries of Christ’s victory.
In the Easter Sequence sung before the Gospel, there is a line that reads: Death with life contended; combat strangely ended! Adam had turned the world upside down. He brought about a combat so great that there was nothing we could do to stop it. Pope Benedict XVI relayed an ancient legend in an Easter Homily a few years ago. The legend tells us that when Adam lay dying, he sent his son Seth and his wife Eve back to the Garden to recover the oil of mercy from the Tree of Life. This oil of mercy was supposed to bring him healing and long life. While on their journey, the Archangel Michael appeared to them and told them that they would not acquire the oil of mercy, and that Adam was going to die. From that day forward, life and death had been in constant struggle. We see this in our natural progression in the seasonal year; the spring brings new life every year, and then the fall swallowing that life. We see it in the birth of children, and the passing of humanity at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. For many, this had become commonplace to believe that this is how life was. For two thousand years, the Jews waited for the long messiah. Twisting this idea into some sort of savior from political oppression. Lowering their expectations from the great gifts that God would offer His people.
When the Savior finally did come, bringing a message far greater than they ever even imagined, they missed his coming. Christ did not come to free us from political oppression, from social chains, from military tyranny. Christ came in order to free us from the very root of all evils in the world, the chains of sin and death. Once He led our ancestors out of the land of the Egypt into the Promised Land through the paschal sacrifice of lambs. Today, he has led us, though the Paschal Sacrifice of Himself, into the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. He has brought to an end that ancient struggle between life and death.
Christ is our oil of mercy that Adam was not afforded. Death was no longer to have the final say, because Christ has become our Paschal Lamb to free us from our slavery to death. And that is how other languages wish each other Happy Easter, by recalling the fact that Christ is the true Paschal Lamb, our Passover. Felices Pascuas in Spanish or Buona Pasqua in Italian.
It is now up to us to continue living what we began in Lent. We mustn’t lower our expectations of our God, or the great gifts given to us. God has chosen each of us to be Saints. He has given us the tools we need to follow His design for us. He has first of all given us the gift of Himself, fully realized in the Cross and in the Resurrection. Winning for us something we were unable to. He has left us the gift of His Church and the Sacraments. Those avenues of grace that is a continual invitation into the Divine Mysteries. We cannot return to who and what we were, because He has made us new creatures through his Death and Resurrection. In His Incarnation he adopted a human nature. In His death and resurrection, he has offered to us the Divine Nature. Lent taught us the importance of sacrifice, doing what needs to be done no matter the cost. Easter teaches us that our sacrifices will be rewarded, because Christ, who has given everything for our sake has risen from the dead. The first fruits of all those who have fallen asleep.
And so, let us take to heart the words of the Apostle today, and clear out the old yeast of our hearts. The yeast of malice and hatred. Let us replace it with the yeast of Christ. Never looking back, but always looking forward to Christ who was once dead, but now lives. – Fr. Jon-Paul