Love Overcomes Sin and Death
Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly catechesis.
During his general audience on April 15, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the joy that permeates the Easter season as Christians celebrate the Lord’s resurrection — a celebration marked by consolation, peace and hope. It is essential for our growth in faith that we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus as a real, historical event and as the entrance into a new dimension of life that is meant to transform every human being and the entire course of history.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, our customary Wednesday general audience is permeated with a spiritual joy — a joy that no suffering or pain can overcome because this joy arises from the certainty that Christ, through his death and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death once and for all.
In celebration of this event, the Church sings, “Christ is risen, Alleluia!” This festive atmosphere — this feeling that is so characteristic of Easter — continues not only throughout this week, the octave of Easter, but extends throughout the 50 days leading up to Pentecost. More than anything, we can say that the mystery of Easter embraces the entire span of our existence.
From Death to Life
During this liturgical season, many biblical reference points are offered to us as a stimulus for meditation so as to deepen the significance and the value of Easter. The Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), which we traveled with Jesus to Calvary during the holy triduum as a way of reliving his sorrowful passion, was transformed into the Via Lucis (Way of Light), a source of comfort, during the Easter Vigil.
When seen from the resurrection, we can say that this path of suffering is a path of light and spiritual rebirth, a path of interior peace and firm hope.
The tears and the pain of Good Friday, followed by the silence of Holy Saturday so laden with expectation, have given way to the dawn of “the first day after the Sabbath,” where the proclamation of life’s defeat over death resounds vigorously: “Dux vitae mortuus/regnat vivus!” (“The Lord of life was dead; but now he lives and triumphs!”)
The astonishing novelty of the Resurrection is so important that the Church never ceases to proclaim it and to perpetuate its memory, especially on Sundays. Indeed, every Sunday is “the Lord’s day” and a weekly Easter for God’s people.
Our brothers and sisters in the East, as a sort of testimony to the fact that this mystery of salvation envelops our life each day, refer to Sunday in Russian as the “day of the Resurrection” (voskreshenye).
Therefore, it is fundamental to our faith and to our witness as Christians that we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as an event that is real and that is historical, to which many authoritative witnesses bear witness.
We affirm it with force because, even in our day, there is no lack of people who seek to deny its historical truth, thereby reducing the Gospel narrative to a myth, to a “vision” that the apostles had, rehashing and presenting old and worn-out theories as new and scientific.
Of course, Jesus’ resurrection was not a simple return to his earlier life on earth. In fact, if this were the case, it would be something that had happened in the past: Two thousand years ago, someone had resurrected and returned to his previous life, for example, like Lazarus.
Rather, Christ’s resurrection is of a totally different dimension: It is the passage to a profoundly new dimension of life that is of interest to us because it involves the whole human family, all of history and the entire universe.
This event, which introduced a new dimension of life and an opening of our world to eternal life, changed the lives of those who were eyewitnesses to it, as the Gospel narratives and other New Testament writings demonstrate.
Entire generations of men and women throughout the centuries have welcomed the proclamation in faith of this event and have oftentimes borne witness to it at the cost of their blood, knowing that by doing so they were entering into this new dimension of life.
The good news resounds once again this year at Easter, unchanged and ever new, to every corner of the earth. Jesus, who died on the cross, has risen. He lives gloriously because he has defeated the power of death. He has brought human man into a new communion of life with God and in God.
This is the victory of Easter, our salvation! Thus, we can sing with St. Augustine, “The resurrection of Christ is our hope,” because it introduces us to a new future.
It is true: Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our firm hope and illuminates our entire pilgrimage here on earth, including the human enigma of suffering and death. Faith in the crucified and risen Christ is the heart of the entire Gospel message, the central nucleus of our creed.
The Witness of St. Paul
We can find an authoritative expression of this essential creed in a famous passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:3-8), where St. Paul — in response to some people in the community of Corinth who, paradoxically, proclaimed the resurrection of Christ but denied the resurrection of the dead, our hope — faithfully transmits what he, Paul, had received from the first apostolic community about the death and resurrection of the Lord.
He begins with a statement that is almost peremptory: “Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (verses 1-2).
He immediately adds that he has transmitted to them what he himself had received. This is followed by the passage we heard at the beginning of our gathering. St. Paul presents, first of all, the death of Jesus, adding, in a rather sparse text, two points to the statement “Jesus died.” First, he tells us that Jesus died “for our sins,” and, secondly, that he died “according to the Scriptures” (verse 3).
This expression, “according to the Scriptures,” establishes the relationship between this event, Our Lord’s death, and the Old Testament story about God’s covenant with his people, and helps us understand that the death of the Son of God is part and parcel of the story of salvation and that this story receives from Scripture its logic and its true meaning.
Until now, Christ’s death had remained somewhat an enigma, whose outcome was still uncertain. In the paschal mystery, the words of Scripture have been fulfilled. Namely, this death, which happened “according to the Scriptures,” is an event that has a logos, that has its own logic: The death of Christ shows that the word of God really and truly became “flesh” and had become human “history.”
The Servant of God
We can see how and why this took place from an additional notation by St. Paul: Christ died “for our sins.” St. Paul’s words seem to refer to Isaiah’s prophecy, which is contained in the fourth song of the Servant of God (see Isaiah 53:12).
The Servant of God, the song tells us, “surrendered himself to death,” carried “the sins of many,” and interceding for the “wicked,” was able to bring the gift of reconciliation to men, both between each other and between man and God. His death, therefore, put an end to death; the way of the cross leads to the Resurrection.
In the verses that follow, St. Paul reflects on Our Lord’s resurrection. He says that Christ “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Once again, “according to the Scriptures!”
Many exegetes have seen in this expression — “He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures” — a significant reference to something we read in Psalm 16, where the Psalmist proclaims: “For you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit” (Psalm 16:10).
This is one of the Old Testament texts that early Christians often cited as proof of Jesus’ messianic character. Since, according to the Jewish interpretation, the body began to corrupt after the third day, the word of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus who rises on the third day before corruption can begin.
Victory Over Death
St. Paul, faithfully transmitting the teaching of the apostles, emphasizes that Christ’s victory over death takes place through the creative power of the Word of God. This divine power brings hope and joy: This is the definitive, liberating message that Easter reveals.
On Easter, God reveals himself and the power of the Trinitarian love that annihilates the destructive forces of evil and death.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be illuminated by the splendor of the risen Lord. Let us welcome his Gospel and adhere to it generously, as did those who had the privilege to be witnesses of his resurrection, as St. Paul did several years later when he met our divine Master in an extraordinary way on the road to Damascus.
We cannot keep the proclamation of this truth, which changes the life of everyone, to ourselves. With humble trust, we pray: “Jesus, who, in rising from the dead, anticipated our resurrection, we believe in you!”
I would like to conclude with a phrase that Silvanus of Mount Athos liked to repeat: “Rejoice, my soul. It is always Easter because the risen Christ is our resurrection!”
May the Virgin Mary help us cultivate within ourselves and around us this climate of paschal joy so that we may be witnesses of God’s love in every situation of our lives! Once more, a happy Easter to all of you.
- May 3-9, 2009