Easter Is an Encounter With the Risen Christ
Weekly General Audience March 26, 2008
BY The Editors
April 6-12, 2008 Issue | Posted 4/1/08 at 12:26 PM
Pope Benedict XVI met with more than 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly general audience on March 26. He dedicated his catechesis to the Easter season. During this season, the Church invites us to reaffirm our faith in the risen Christ and, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, to recognize him in the breaking of the bread — the Eucharist — the living memorial of Christ’s sacrifice and the celebration of his real presence.
Dear brothers and sisters:
“Et resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas: On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures.”
Every Sunday in the Nicene Creed we renew our profession of faith in the resurrection of Christ, a remarkable event that is the key to Christianity. Through this great mystery that changed the course of history and is a reality for us to this day every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are able to comprehend everything in the Church.
Nevertheless, there is a liturgical season — the Easter season — during which the Church proclaims this reality, which is central to the Christian faith, to the faithful in a more intense way in all its doctrinal richness and inexhaustible vitality so that they may continually rediscover it and live it in a more faithful way.
Every year during “the most sacred Triduum of Christ who was crucified, died and rose” as St. Augustine referred to it, the Church relives in an atmosphere of prayer and penance the final days of Jesus’ life here on earth: his condemnation to death, his ascent to Calvary as he carried the cross, his sacrifice for our salvation and his burial in the tomb.
Then, “on the third day,” the Church relives his resurrection.
On Easter Sunday — Jesus’ passover from death to life — the ancient prophecies were completely fulfilled. During the Easter season, the entire liturgy exults with certainty and joy in the resurrection of Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have to constantly renew our commitment to Christ who died and rose for us. His resurrection on Easter is also our resurrection, because the risen Christ has given to us the certainty of our own resurrection. News about his resurrection from the dead is ageless: Jesus is still alive and the Gospel is alive. “The faith of Christians,” St. Augustine once observed, “is the resurrection of Christ.” The Acts of the Apostles explains this very clearly: “God has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
Indeed, death did not suffice in order to show that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah. Many people throughout the course of history have dedicated their lives to a cause that they considered just and died for it! Yet, they remained dead.
The Lord’s death shows the immense love with which he loved us, to the point of sacrificing himself for us. However, only his resurrection is truly “confirmation” — the certainty — that everything he said is also true and valid for us and throughout the ages.
By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father glorified him. This is what St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
It is important to confirm this fundamental truth of our faith, whose historical veracity has been amply documented, even if today, as in the past, there are many who in various ways cast doubt on it or even deny it outright.
When faith in Jesus’ resurrection is weakened, the testimony of believers becomes weaker.
Indeed, if faith in the resurrection were to diminish in the Church, everything would come to a standstill and crumble.
On the other hand, a commitment in heart and mind to Christ, who has died and who has risen again, will change lives and will illuminate the lives of individuals and entire peoples.
Was in not the certainty that Christ has risen from the dead that left a mark of courage, prophetic audacity and perseverance on the martyrs throughout the ages? Has it not been this encounter with Jesus, who is alive, that has fascinated men and women from the very beginning of Christianity and led to their conversion so that they would leave everything in order to follow him and devote their entire lives to serving the Gospel?
As the apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Yet, he has risen!
The word that is constantly proclaimed during these days is this: Jesus has risen, he is alive, and we can have an encounter with him, just as the women encountered him on the third day after the Sabbath when they ran to the tomb; just as the disciples, who were surprised and confused by all that the women told them, encountered him; just as many other eyewitnesses encountered him during the days following his resurrection.
Moreover, even after the Ascension, Jesus continued to be present among his friends as he had indeed promised: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The Lord is with us, with his Church, until the end of all time. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, members of the early Church began to proclaim the Easter message openly and fearlessly. This message, which has been passed on from generation to generation, has been transmitted to us and resounds with renewed power every year at Easter.
During the Octave of Easter, the liturgy invites us in a special way to personally encounter the risen Christ and recognize his life-giving work in the events of history and in our own daily lives.
Today, for example, we read once again the very moving account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35).
After Jesus’ crucifixion, immersed in their sadness and disappointment, they were returning to their homes discouraged. En route, they were discussing among themselves everything that had happened during the past few days in Jerusalem.
At that moment, Jesus approached them, joined the discussion, and began to teach them: “‘Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’” (Luke 24:25-26).
Beginning with Moses and then all the prophets, he explained to them everything in Scripture that referred to him. Christ’s teaching — this explanation of the prophecies — was an unexpected revelation for the disciples on the road to Emmaus and it was enlightening and comforting.
Jesus was giving them a key to reading the Bible in a new way and everything at that moment appeared clear to them, everything was directed toward that very moment. Convicted by the words of this traveler whom they did not recognize, they asked him to stop and have dinner with them. He agreed and sat down at table with them.
St. Luke the Evangelist recalls this moment: “While he was with them at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:29-30).
It was at that moment that the eyes of the two disciples were opened and that they recognized him “but he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31). Full of astonishment and joy, they said to each other: “‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us’” (Luke 24:32)?
Throughout the liturgical year, especially during Holy Week and Easter Week, the Lord is on the road with us, explaining the Scriptures and helping us to understand this mystery:
Everything speaks about him. Moreover, this should make our hearts burn within us too so that our eyes can be opened.
The Lord is with us and is showing us the way that is true. As the two disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, today, in the breaking of the bread, we, too, recognize his presence. The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized him and recalled the moments when Jesus had broken bread with them.
This breaking of the bread reminds us of the first Eucharist, which was celebrated during the Last Supper, when Jesus broke the bread, thereby anticipating his death and resurrection and giving himself to his disciples. Jesus is also breaking bread with us and for us; he is making himself present with us in the Holy Eucharist; he is giving himself to us and opening up our hearts.
In the Holy Eucharist and in our encounter with his word, at this twofold table of the word and of the consecrated bread and wine, we, too, can encounter Jesus and know him.
In this way, the community relives every Sunday the Lord’s Passover, and receives from their Savior the testimony of his love and service to his brothers and sisters.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the joy of these days make our faithful commitment to the crucified and risen Christ even stronger. Above all, may we be conquered by a strong attraction to his resurrection!
May Mary help us to be messengers of the light and joy of Easter for our many brothers and sisters! Once again, I wish all of you a blessed Easter.
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