Every year at Christmas time, when we stop and stand in awe of the Incarnation of Christ, it is always striking that the event of Christ's birth seems so incongruous with the surroundings in which it took place.
Year after year, the same mystery, ever ancient yet ever new, unfolds before us. The eternal Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, emptied Himself of the glory of Heaven, and was born not in the magnificence of a castle, but in the humility of a stable. There was no royal court to welcome Him, just a band of shepherds; no gilded ceiling to protect Him from the night sky, just a few farm animals to keep Him warm.
Now it is Easter time. You and I have walked with Christ the 40-day Lenten path of penitence to prepare ourselves for the week of salvation, Holy Week, during which unfold the events for which Christ became man in the first place: to grant to you and to me the hope of reaching Heaven, to be with Him for eternity.
As we contemplate Christ's Resurrection, we are struck by an incongruity similar to the one we saw at Christmas. We know, after all, that the Resurrection of Christ was the greatest event that ever took place, or ever will take place, in all of human history. It is the sole criterion on which stands or falls the entire Christian Faith. Yet for all of that, no one saw the Resurrection.
Again, don't our first instincts tell us to look for something more spectacular? Wouldn't it have been delicious if the angry mobs who put Jesus to death just happened to be passing by as He rose triumphantly from the dead? Or what if Pontius Pilate had come to inspect Jesus' grave, and there found not the newly occupied tomb he was expecting, but the victorious, Risen One, a King greater than Caesar, with a heavenly army mightier than all the Roman legions? But we know it was not that way: as high as the heavens are above the earth are God's thoughts above our thoughts, and His ways above our ways, as is written in the Book of Isaiah (55:9).
The Gospel of St. Matthew tells us that by the time Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and the guards stationed at Jesus' tomb felt the earthquake and saw the angel who told them of the Resurrection, Jesus was no longer at the tomb; He was already risen, and on His way to visit His disciples (and, we can suppose, His mother) who were still mourning Him.
Why is it that God ordained that the Resurrection of Christ should come to pass with no human witnesses? Furthermore, we might wonder why Christ did not manifest Himself to the whole world, to prove His divinity by His Resurrection, and remained on earth only forty days before ascending to His Father in Heaven. It is puzzling to think that after the first Easter Sunday, comparatively few people saw the Risen Christ. So why was it that the Resurrection was seen by no one, and the Risen Christ by so few?
Cardinal Newman once wrote that, beginning at the Resurrection, we see Christ in His glorified state: He is no longer subject to the constraints of time, and is impervious to the limitations of space. Following His resurrection, Christ is most clearly manifested as a King. As such, He behaves in a manner which befitting who He is. Newman writes,
Kings do not court the multitude, or show themselves as a spectacle at the will of others. Christ rose from the grave in secret, and taught in secret for forty days, because the government was upon His shoulder. He was no longer a servant washing His disciples? feet, and dependent on the wayward will of the multitude. He was the acknowledged Heir of all things. Those only did He call beside Him who had been His friends, who loved Him. These drew near, and saw the Lord of Israel, and so were fitted to bear the news of Him to the people at large. He remained in His holy temple; they from Him proclaimed the tidings of His resurrection, and of His mercy, His free pardon offered to all men, and the promises of grace and glory which His death had procured for all who believe. (from John Henry Newman, Christian Reverence, Parochial and Plain Sermons I, Sermon 23).
The Risen Christ, then, is a King - our King - and when we understand the Resurrection as the triumph of our heavenly King, the circumstances surrounding it become clearer for us. The Incarnation and the Resurrection are profound mysteries, but ones in which Christ reveals the unexpected, marvelous ways in which the Father willed to make possible our salvation. What, then, should be our response? Newman concludes,
Christ showed His love for men by dying for them, and rising again. He maintained His honor and great glory by retiring from them when His merciful purpose was attained, that they might seek Him if they would find Him.
This Easter, let us seek our Risen King as never before. Let us seek Him through reverent, experiential communion with Him in prayer. Let us seek Him in the words of Sacred Scripture, especially by re-reading the sacred writers' accounts of His suffering, death, and resurrection. Let us seek Him in the Sacraments, particularly in the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.
If we seek Him in these places, which He has left us, there we will inevitably find Him, in all His glory and power. Let us therefore pray for the grace to welcome and receive Him with joyful hearts in this life, and so come to the eternal life that He made possible for us by the mysteries we celebrate at Easter.
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