The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus happened something like 1,981 years ago. What difference does it make in our lives?
At this past Easter Vigil, Pope Francis gave us two ways of responding. First, because Jesus died once and for all (Heb 10:14), our baptism is an utterly real participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus – the personal destruction of death in us and incorporation into His very Body. Thus, when Jesus tells his disciples to “go back to Galilee,” He means that there is a new beginning to our lives. So spoke Pope Francis:
For each of us, too, there is a Galilee at the origin of our journey with Jesus. To go to Galilee means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience. To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which Gods grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.
That is a real difference this ‘historical event’ makes in our lives. But, as we are baptized as infants nowadays, there is something incomplete in our baptisms on an experiential level. The implications of this are exhibited by the millions of baptized Christians who simply do not care about Jesus, His Church or religion in general. They would rather organize the recycling or watch Sharktopus than go to Mass, read the Bible or talk about Jesus. There is some kind of gap between baptized people whose Bibles are worn-out and can’t stop talking about Jesus and baptized people who don’t see anything in it for them. What is that gap? It can’t be simply a difference in personality, intellectual horsepower or upbringing – people across all those maps reside on both sides of “into it” and “not into it.”
So, what has the power to move someone from one side to the other, from here to there, from Peter in the beginning to Peter dying on a cross, from Saul to Paul? What do we human beings need to move us toward a radical life-change?
In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential Galilee: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.
Reflection on John 20:1-18
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb at night. Alone. All is darkness, isolation, death, and desolation. She is wading through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Her Beloved, her Messiah, her Savior – everything she lived for – is dead. She is left with only doubt, uncertainty and nothing to stand on.
Alas! Not only is He taken from her, but now even His corpse is gone. The darkness only intensifies! Eyes, which had probably dried up once or twice over the past three days, find deeper springs. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him!” Hear her parched anguish! She is lost. She knows not where to turn. She has nothing left on which to fix her faith, her hope or her love. Pitch-black darkness…
What brings Mary out of this? Simply: Jesus. He “passes her by,” pulls back the veil and reveals Himself to her. What utter mystery, wonder, power, light and love beams forth from verse 16. Jesus merely speaks a word and Mary is changed forever.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!”
How the hair on her body must have stood on-end, her knees weakened, her breath fluttering, her heart trembling, her words failing, her eyes white and wide open to the light pouring into her quaking soul. Then what happens? She turns. She turns from the dark emptiness of the tomb towards the light and life that is Jesus.
This is the original encounter with the risen Lord, defeater of death. This is what Jesus does. This is what happens when we meet Him. He reveals who He is (God, Lord, Christ, Messiah, Bridegroom) and who we are (like with Mary, He speaks our name.) He plants within us an abiding conviction that His Father really is our Father too (v. 17)! And we “turn!” At once we see the truth, the veil is lifted from our eyes and we are moved from darkness to light, from death to life.
This is what all of us need. This is what human beings need in order to “turn” like Mary, in order for a radical life-change to begin. We need to encounter Jesus. Pope Francis has been shouting this from the rooftops. He continues in his Easter Vigil homily:
Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.
As we celebrate Easter, we remember that Jesus really is alive. Right now. He is next to you, in you, moving through you. And a person who is alive can be met! So, yes, this all happened around 1,981 years ago, but we can still meet Him today, right now. That is the difference it makes in our lives! He is present to us with an amazing nearness. We can be incorporated into His sacrifice. We can encounter Him and then “turn” towards freedom.
In fact, only then will any of the “New Evangelization” move from a trendy internal discussion to a living, combustible reality. Because, when we encounter Him, only then do we experience being sent to be his witnesses (v. 17-18), only then do we have personal, experiential “good news” of which to testify.
So, it’s worth asking ourselves this Easter: Have we encountered Him? Not just, “Are we Catholic?” But, as the Holy Father alludes to, can we point to a time (or handful of times) when Jesus passed our way, gazed at us with mercy and asked us to follow Him?