Easter 2012

What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.

Thus spoke Qoheleth of Jerusalem about three centuries before Christ. This great Jewish teacher of popular wisdom had examined the world of man over a long lifetime, and had come to the conclusion that all in this world is ultimately vanity; he insisted that the true meaning of life is always hidden from man. Merit, he concluded, does not yield happiness for it is often obtained by suffering. Even riches and pleasures do not bring lasting happiness, for they do not save one from the grave. The good often suffer more than the evil in this world. Indeed, life is ultimately monotonous, enjoyment is fleeting and vain; and darkness and death quickly follow. Life, then, is an enigma beyond human ability to solve. But there was one thing Qoheleth was absolutely certain of, there is nothing new under the sun.

Qoheleth was not an atheist, but he could find no hope for life in this world, no ultimate meaning for human life here and now; he was content to await the answer from God in the world to come. This world could not supply the answer to the riddles of human existence.

So, for Qoheleth, the answer could only come beyond this life, in the future world. There at last he, we, would learn the meaning of human life. But Qoheleth was wrong. He did not live to see that, indeed, there was to be something new, utterly new and astonishing, under the Sun, something that had never taken place before. And what is this one truly new and unique thing that has occurred in human history, and that gives the rest of history its meaning, and already here in time sheds wonderful light on the riddle of human existence? It is, dear brothers and sisters, the sacred event we celebrate this day, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Think about this event. Never before had death been defeated like this; never before had man triumphed over the grave. This is the utterly new thing that has occurred under the sun, the unique event that changes all of human history and tells the final truth about the life of man.

Man had always carried in his heart a profound rebellion against death, a deep sense that this was not meant to be, that human life somehow was not meant to be subject to suffering and decay and finally death. Christianity and Judaism are religions that, by divine inspiration, protest against death, and our Scriptures in the end are a ringing affirmation of the truth that death is not man’s natural destiny. Death poses a challenge to the meaning of life, and faith is man’s attempt to understand the meaning of a creature’s existence who longs for unending life and happiness, but who is struck down inevitably by suffering and death. Man is the creature who not only dies but the creature who alone knows all his life that death awaits him, and knows that death is the ultimate contradiction of his whole way of thinking about life and living. It is death that renders all things vanity in this world, death that makes life seem to lack any ultimate meaning.

Now, Qoheleth did not live to see this new thing that gives meaning to human existence and even to human suffering and death. But there were in fact other new “prophets” privileged to witness to this new thing under the sun. They could not see his divine person, even after His resurrection, but they could and did touch his risen body, and probe the wounds of death which remained as witnesses to the fact that this was the very body that had died on the Cross, pouring out its life-blood through those very wounds, until only water came forth. Here was something truly, radically, new under the sun, and its happening would ultimately make all things new, including the sun.

Blessed Qoheleth looked forward to something new in the next world. But this is something that happened in this world. Moreover, after the resurrection of Jesus, we also will hear his words : “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) Yes, by the power of his death and resurrection, Jesus has in fact begun the final transformation of God’s creation. He does not abandon this world, or the human body, but by the power of His saving death and resurrection, he will ultimately make everything new. It began there, in the tomb, with his own body; but it continues today through the sacraments, and we see this especially in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

By Baptism, we are made new creatures, by being inserted sacramentally into the events of Christ’s death and resurrection. By our sacramental participation in his death, we die to sin, Original Sin and all personal sins if they exist; by sacramentally sharing in His resurrection, we rise to become new creatures, God’s own children by adoption. We do not put off our bodies, but put on Christ, and we truly become new creations in Him.

And so too with the Eucharist, we see this divine transformation of earthly elements as anticipating the end time when all things will be made new. Bread and wine are transformed, and become the very body and blood of Christ, which in turn becomes our food for Eternal life. All this happens already here, in this world, and this newness of creation will be completed in this world, when Christ returns in glory. Christianity is not a rejection of the body or of the world as if they were in themselves unimportant, or even evil. The Resurrection is the deepest affirmation of the goodness of all creation and its permanent value, and while it will be transformed, it will be these same bodies and this same world that will remain forever, and forever will be something new under the Sun.

Today Christians everywhere proclaim their faith and their joy that Jesus Christ is truly risen and alive and in our midst. This is no belief based upon some message from outer space, or from the inner space of man’s religious imagination. It is based upon the witness of men and women who were once as hopeless of overcoming death in this world as anyone in the world. The women were going to the tomb to dress the body, not a living body but a dead one. Mary Magdalene even wept after she saw the empty tomb; she wondered only where someone had taken the body. The Apostles were in hiding, not waiting for Jesus to rise but more likely waiting for the coast to clear so they could escape, or at least for a message from God as to “what now?”. Like Qoheleth, they too now expected nothing new under the sun. Jesus had to prove to them that he was not a ghost, and their hesitancy to believe is ironically the great support of our own faith. They came to believe in His Divinity, because they touched His risen humanity. 2000 years later we believe in both because of their word and the gift of faith. Easter makes all things new; May God increase your Christian faith on this Easter Day so you too every day can know the joy of those first witnesses to the first thing new under the Sun, since the moment of creation itself.

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