By: Fr. Gerald M. Musa

HOMILY FOR HOLY SATURDAY: The Apostle Peter testified to the resurrection of Jesus saying: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible…after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41). Easter is a celebration of resurrection and an opportunity to reflect on the power of a new life. We all can imitate the curiosity of the Apostle Paul who expresses an innate desire “To know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).
Sometimes we assume we understand the mysteries of death and resurrection. We only come to realise how much we know when little children pose some basic questions to us related to death and resurrection. What answer can I give to a child who asks: “What is the meaning of death?” or how would I explain a similar question: ‘Where did granddad go after his death?” or another curious question: “Do dead people wake up from sleep?” or even this frequently asked question: “Where is heaven?”

In simple ways we can explain that rising from the dead is like waking up from sleep. In order to make the explanation of heaven less complex, we simply point to the skies as the location where heaven is. Conversely, we point to the ground, to explain that hell is the depth of the earth. For a child, simple answers like these could suffice and put a wedge to other curious questions. However, for an adult deeper explanation is required which gives a true picture of heaven and hell as a state of relationship or exclusion from God.

GOD OF THE LIVING: In Scriptures we read about the sharp differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees. One of the areas of disagreement between these two groups was on the question of resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in anything outside the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). In these books they could not see any allusion to the belief in the resurrection. The Pharisees on the other hand believed in the resurrection and the angels. On one occasion, the Sadducees brought forward a question to Jesus about a woman who married seven brothers serially. They said:
“Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (Matthew 22:24-28).

There was a dishonest motive behind their question. It was a mischievous attempt to make him contradict the scriptures and lose his esteem among his followers. They were shocked when Jesus exposed their ignorance of the scriptures. In giving them an answer He quoted from one of the books of Moses (Exodus 3:6), which implicitly speaks about the resurrection. He said to them:
“When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:30-32).

The God of the living means that even though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are no more in the world, they are alive with God and have only returned to their maker. These words of Jesus remind us that life is a gift forever. Jesus seized the opportunity to educate his detractors about life hereafter. Their questions manifest how they used worldly standards to interpret spiritual matters. He let them understand that there is no procreation after resurrection. Procreation is only necessary for mortals in the world for the reproduction of their own kind. After the life in the world, the necessity for reproduction ceases because those who have resurrected are equal to the angels and can no longer die.

The story of the seven brothers in the book of Maccabees provides for us another background for belief in the resurrection among the Jews. These brothers and their mother suffered martyrdom during the period of the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes who wanted the Jews to worship the pagan gods of the Greeks and to give up their religious convictions by partaking in the pagan rituals. The entire family was wiped out because they stood firm for their belief. They would rather die than give up the faith in the one true God. What is educative about the event of their torture was their expression of belief in the resurrection, which further strengthened their determination to lay down their lives. The mother reminded the children of the hope of resurrection when she said: “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever’ (2 Macc. 7:9). Job expresses this same conviction about life after death: ‘I know that my redeemer lives and though after my skin worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26).

Even though some of the sections of the Jews believed in the resurrection, they had no clear understanding on the nature of the resurrection. Jesus came to clarify this very important aspect by his death and resurrection. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus who assures all who believe in him that they would also experience the process of dying and rising. Jesus rightly declares himself as the way, the truth and life (John 14:6). What is more, he openly told his disciples: ‘I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he was dead, yet he will live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.’ (John 11:25-26)
To believe in the resurrection of the body and in the life to come is an expression of faith.

Some early Christians asked questions regarding the nature of resurrection. St. Paul responded to these questions with the following words:
How can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life? If that is true it means that Christ has not been raised; and if Christ had not been raised from death then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe.’ (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).

Other similar questions, which worried the people, were: ‘how can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have? Paul answered:
“When you sow a seed in the ground, it does not sprout to life unless it dies. And what you sow is bare seed, perhaps a grain of wheat or some other grain, not the full-bodied plant that will later grow…This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body, when raised it will be a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-44).

On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ; we anticipate our resurrection: we celebrate the grace of rising from our many falls; we celebrate our rising from sickness to good health; we also celebrate our rising from despair to a blessed hope. St. John Paul II advises, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

I wish you a Happy Easter as you celebrate life and rise to new life.