Homily notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – Pro-Cathedral, Dublin 1, 19th/20th April
“He is not here, he is risen”. This phrase belongs to the central core of our Christian belief. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”, Saint Paul writes in the First Letter to the Corinthians. Our faith stands or falls on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus.
One of our difficulties is that we do not have the sort of evidence about the resurrection that our modern mentality looks for in ascertaining what is fact. There are no direct witnesses to the moment of the resurrection. Our cultures tend to look for specific measurement of evidence and that we do not have. All we have is the evidence of witnesses and these witnesses are witnesses who, one might say, have a vested interest.
They are the ones who recognise the resurrection in faith. Resurrection does not fit easily into our everyday categories. Even the disciples have difficulties in understanding what resurrection means and at times they do not recognise Jesus, as happened in the road to Emmaus, or are not certain who he is. Jesus’ resurrection is not something that our human categories instantly register. Jesus’ resurrection is not like that of Lazarus or that of the others who were raised from the dead by Jesus. They came back from death and lived for some time afterwards, but they were destined later to face normal human death. Jesus’ resurrection is not just a return from normal death. Jesus’ continues to live. His resurrection is a breaking into a new life, a life which endures and which goes beyond our categories of life and death.
The resurrection then opens a new chapter and a new dimension of human existence. When we look at how the Gospels tell of the appearances of Jesus we see the complexities. The risen Jesus speaks and touches and can be touched and eats. His presence is real but goes beyond and outside reality. Jesus is present, but he also vanishes. It is something that our science even today cannot categorise, but it is not for that reason unreal. The resurrection of Jesus is a new form of bodily existence.
The resurrection takes Jesus into a form of life that goes beyond our world, but is not irrelevant to our world. Indeed it is an epochal event which changes human existence. With his resurrection, Jesus conquers death. Without faith in a resurrection, death is meaningless and Jesus is just a wise teacher and nothing more. With the resurrection human existence enters into a new hope and even death itself takes on a new significance. Death is not the end. Jesus through his resurrection has opened out for us a hope in a life that goes beyond death. The resurrection takes Jesus into a form of life that goes beyond our world, but it is not irrelevant to our world. Resurrection changes the way we are called to live in this life.
Resurrection is the bond between our daily human existence and transcendence. Transcendence opens an on-going and never ending challenge regarding how we should live. As Christians who believe in resurrection we are called to live a resurrection ethic and ethic of life, an ethic of impatience which can never leave us satisfied with the status quo. Too often in the past our Christian ethic has been dominated by negatives which have impeded real dialogue with the ethical views of others. We have listed and categorised mortal sins, rather than presented a pathway for our future which aims to attain and to anticipate in our life the fullness of life which awaits us, that new kind of future for humankind. An ethic of life is yes an ethic which respects human life from conception until natural death, but not just that.
The Christian ethic is a resurrection ethic which respects human life from conception until natural death, but also at every moment in between. It is an ethic which must lead us to live life fully, to rejoice in the gift of our own life, to want to flourish in that life and to be impatient in ensuring that every other person created in God’s image can also share that life to the full. A resurrection ethic has to leave us unhappy when others are not able to live their life to the full. A resurrection ethic must consider revolting violence which treats human life as of little value. A resurrection ethic must leave us angry when people are trafficked or exploited.
A resurrection ethic, because of its affirmation of the transcendence which has been opened for us by the resurrection of Jesus, must never leave us satisfied. In life we are all called to make moral decisions about real life situations and this may involve compromise, but an ethic of transcendence will always challenge us to keep our minds and our hearts and our sensitivities open to go further, to realise that something more is always possible, for us and for the world we live in. In a pluralist culture men and women of faith are called to witness to the practical consequences of our belief in the resurrection. Our resurrection ethic has its contribution to make to society. An ethic of resurrection is an ethic of faith but not irrelevant to daily life. Men and women of faith are called to witness to that on-going search for meaning through an ethic which always points beyond the frontiers of human limitation. This impatience and sense of urgency about the human project is something which we can and must share with others in constructive dialogue. The risen life is not detached from the day-to-day life of the Christian.
We can look at the stories of the Gospel which illustrate fundamental human values just as that: impressive moral teaching. Just think of Gospel stories of the Good Samaritan, of the welcome home of the prodigal son, of the Beatitudes. They have a value which any person, believer and non-believer alike, can capture. But the believer sees in each of these stories that the crucial figure represents Jesus himself. In his earthly life Jesus witnessed to and anticipated the values which belong to a resurrection ethic and showed us the way. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We proclaim that Jesus is Risen.
We can no longer limit ourselves within the confines of our everyday life but we must be witnesses to what is life is and what the immense possibilities of life and human progress are and never give in to compromise or inertia or self-centeredness. Saint Paul in the letter to the Romans proclaims that: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved”. In baptism we enter into that new life of the Risen Lord. On this night all over the world, the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection ushers in new members of the community of those who believe that the Lord is truly Risen. They are called to the font of rebirth and are born anew to that life which is without end. Through the resurrection they enter into new life and are called – along with all of us believers – to witness to that new life. ENDS