Opening the Word: The greatest feast

“Break the box and shed the nard; Stop not now to count cost … Upon Christ throw all away: Know ye, this is Easter Day.” 

So wrote the great Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins in his wonderful poem, “Easter.” It beautifully expresses the all-or-nothing nature of this day, the greatest feast of the Church, known by so many names: Feast of the Resurrection, Resurrection Day, Pascha, the Great Feast and the Feast of Feasts. Let us consider, in the light of today’s readings, the great mystery of Easter. 

We are all familiar with the saying that there is no Resurrection Day without a Good Friday. Strangely enough, when I was a young fundamentalist Protestant, our little Bible chapel did not have a Good Friday service. And yet we spoke all the time about how the Cross was everything for us. Years later, I realized we had shied away from entering fully into the mystery of the Passion of Christ, and had missed the awe that comes from the Resurrection.  

On the other hand, I am thankful that I was taught to believe in the Resurrection, for I know Christians who try to explain it as a merely “spiritual” event. 

On the contrary, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness” (No. 639). The word “witness” is essential here, as the sermon in Acts 10 by St. Peter, the head apostle, makes evident. “We are witnesses of all that he did,” he said. These are bold claims, and one would expect them to be accompanied by bold actions. And indeed they were, beginning at Pentecost, when what had been a shattered, confused group of grieving disciples emerged as confident, joyful witnesses to the kingdom of God. 

St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, delved deeply into the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Not surprisingly, it is a central theme of his life and writing, for the Christian faith rests squarely on the fact of the Resurrection. If Christ was not raised from the dead, he told the Corinthians, “then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” Indeed, he and the other apostles would be “false witnesses to God” if the Resurrection was a lie, a myth, or a desperate wish (1 Cor 15:12-15).  

Since Christ did rise from the dead, and those we are baptized into him have been raised with him, St. Paul told the Colossians, “seek what is above. … Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:1-2). Then he wrote something quite astounding — not “for when you die,” but “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Those who have been baptized have put on Christ; they have died with Christ, as St. Paul explained to the Romans (Rom 6:1-11). 

However, when St. Peter and the “other disciple,” St. John, ran to the tomb on Easter morning, they began by entering the tomb, looking at the burial cloths, gazing at the evidence. Then they believed, after they had looked, touched, considered — that is, witnessed. 

“Mingle praises, prayer, and song, Singing to the Trinity,” wrote Father Hopkins. “Henceforth let your souls always, Make each morn an Easter Day.” Amen! Christ is risen! 

Carl E. Olson is editor of the Catholic World Report