Easter is a moment to reflect on gestures of JesusChrist who is risen
On Palm Sunday, as we processed with over 6,000 youth through Nyeri, singing Hosanna in the highest, one of them asked: “Why this ritual every year? What is it meant to realise?” Indeed, why should we celebrate the Holy week, and Easter at all? True to the youthful spirit, he continued singing loudly and vigorously, enjoying the “experience” of reliving the Kingly moment of Christ who rode into Jerusalem, amid the acclaim and the “approval” of the residents of the City of David. Just like last Sunday, many bystanders in today’s world, just gaze at the Easter procession. Perhaps not able to articulate that same question: what does all this mean?
Power of Gestures and Rites
We were all moved recently, to witness Pope Francis kiss the feet of the President Kiir of South Sudan and his three vice presidents. The elderly Pope knelt before each of them, and kissed their shoes. This eloquent and powerful gesture, is indeed an Easter gesture, which the Pope actualises, the washing of the feet. It is not merely external but probes and provokes the realisation of a transcendent reality of dignity, worthiness in unworthiness and responsibility. The Eastergestures and rites, are meant to bring about similar effects, provoking and moving us to repentance, transformation and renewal in Christ. St John Paul II used to say that we go to the great spiritual mysteries through physical signs and symbols. The ceremonies of Holy Week are full of signs and symbols.
Easter is our story, the story of humanity, the story of every human. Easter is the moment to put a spotlight on the meaning of our own lives, understood from a perspective of God. It is a story that brings hope to all those under oppression and suffering, it is a story that effects the true victory of good over evil. For believers, Easter is not a historical commemoration but an actualisation of the truth about humanity, and an opportunity to draw strength and meaning for Life.
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So much happens in the Holy week, that like a fast-forwarded movie, we barely have time to take it in: The palms, the donkey, the supper, the glittering sword, the kiss, the mock trial, the Cross, the thief, the explosive resurrection! It is so full of drama, of acclamation, betrayal and finally a strong faithfulness of a man who dies in the most cruel way, and that man, Jesus, most mysteriously, is the Son of God! The Easterstory is meant to talk to present day man and woman, who is too busy and engaged, as not to see the real meaningful action in all the hustle and bustle of society. To shake us to reality of greater things, more transcendental realities… man was not created for the small stage… Man is made for fullness of happiness, and is not satisfied with falsified “substitutes.”
Man is made for greatness
Easter is the celebration of the deep Mystery of God who saves, that is at the centre of the Christian faith. It is a recognition of the truth of Creation, where God created all things. Man, he created as his masterpiece, wishing to share with him his own likeness and image, somehow partaking of the Divine attributes of God himself. That he wished man to be filled with joy and happiness! But Adam and Eve, our first parents were deceived and sinned against God, by rejecting him and rather seeking themselves, small-time satisfactions. Their sin was one of wanting and pretending “to be like God”. That sin and the state of “fallenness” is the source of sin in man’s heart and sin and sadness in the world.
The Easter Mystery is the realisation of God’s plan to redeem and restore goodness and happiness to man. This plan was to send his son Jesus Christ, to take up our fallen and sinful human nature, while still being God, and to suffer and die, the greatest sufferings a human can endure, and offer these as a ransom for our righteousness to be restored before God. This is the Mystery of the Incarnation, that God took human nature upon himself, in Jesus Christ. Any faith that professes to be Christian, must profess this truth, even when it is difficult to grasp in our understanding.
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Easter is not a sad celebration or mere commemoration of death. To the young man who questioned me, I explained that the Mystery of Easter is the explosion and outburst of joy and celebration! The death we witness is life giving! Easter is characterised by joyful acclamation and celebration that God has so loved us, and restored us rightfully to be called Children of God! The acclaim of Easter is “Alleluia, Alleluia” and like the Handel composition, it bursts with strength and force, into the hearts of all. Alleluia is an expression of rejoicing that means “God be praised”!
Easter is the celebration of the victory of good over evil, God over the devil, light over darkness, grace over sin. The Holy week brings out all the negative and dark side of our fallen nature, or the evil of man, but does not end there. We witness betrayal not only by Judas Iscariot but also by Simon Peter the first Apostle who denies Christ, and the others who flee. We witness the hypocrisy of the Jews who sing Hosanna on Sunday, and yell “Crucify him” on Friday. Is it not just like us, our society today? God-fearing but treacherous when we are away from the church. Then the evil of cruelty on the innocent, as they whip and scourge Jesus. Merciless and heartless. But all that is conquered by the determination and nobility of one who dies for us, and forgives his killers. There lies the light, that in the state of defeat he is still acclaimed king, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”. When all seems lost, when the evil seems to have conquered, Jesus rises form the dead. Yes, death also is conquered by life. That is the celebration Easterthat death does not have the last word, nor sin, nor evil, nor darkness.
Easter is the celebration of a hope already in the process of being achieved! As we celebrate Easter, we ought to celebrate goodness, greatness of self-sacrificing actions, whose exemplar is Jesus Christ who dies on the Cross. His sacrifice brings the power of giving. He rises and with even more powerful life. That is what happens too, when we generously give ourselves, when we generously give, nothing is lost, instead we get real returns, of joy and powerfully change society for good.
In a society that evil seems to have made tremendous gains, and where goodness seems to have been vanquished, Easterreminds us all that Good is destined to conquer, but through our collaboration. It is a hope steeped in a call to action! The deep-seated evils need to be restored through Christian actions, that are inspired by these powerful gestures and actions of Christ we witness in Easter. Like the gesture of Pope Francis, we expect consequent behaviour that meets the power of the gesture! For every Kenyan, for every Christian, Easter is a moment of reflective contemplation of effective gestures of Jesus Christ, who rises from the dead after dying for us! We cannot remain untouched. Now it is really Easter, celebrate! But it cannot be business as usual!
- The writer is the Archbishop in charge of Nyeri Archdiocese
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