There is no eyewitness account of the actual event we are gathered here to celebrate. No human eye saw Jesus cast off his grave clothes and stand upright. Nobody saw how the stone that sealed his tomb got rolled away. No one saw Jesus walk out of the grave. What we do have are eyewitness accounts of Jesus already already risen from the dead.
First, of course, are the women, with Mary Magdalene in the lead. Then, on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, then to others, as many as 500, as St Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians. Precisely because of what these people saw, and what they told others about what they saw, and for no other reason, you and I are assembled here at this moment doing what we’re doing. We may not be eye-witnesses, but we are ear-witnesses to the proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead.
That announcement has been handed down to us from generation to generation across nearly two thousand years of time. We are here because of that announcement, and our lives are shaped by it.
Our Easter proclamation—Christ is risen: the Lord is risen indeed—enables us—indeed, compels us—to engage in and prosecute the mission of the church. In particular, it calls us to three specific activities, three distinctive actions which are the hallmark of the community which has been formed by the Easter announcement: “He is not here, he is risen.” I speak of evangelizing, baptizing, and, to use a shamelessly manufactured word just so it will sound like the other two, eucharistizing.
First, the Easter message calls us to evangelize the world, starting with ourselves and our neighbors. In the 28th chapter of Matthew, in his final words on this earth, Jesus gives us our marching orders: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Evangelism simply means “telling good news.” The good news, in this case, is that we don’t have to be at odds with God, we can have peace with God. We don’t have to be afraid of God or indifferent toward God, we can be friends with God. This happens through the forgiveness of our sins and a living personal relationship with the same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead sometime in the wee hours of that Sunday morning. If you don’t have that kind of relationship, then I’m here to evangelize you! Great news—God loves you and wants you to know him. Jesus wants to lift you by the hand, that you may live in the power of his resurrection and no longer fear death. What do you think? Would you like to respond to that good news?
Second, the Easter message calls us to baptize. Easter has always been the premier occasion for baptism, and if the reason is not apparent to you, please let me explain. In the person we know as Jesus, God the son took human flesh, lived and died as one of us, and then defeated death when he rose from the dead. When we are baptized, we are incorporated into his experience of dying and rising. We die and rise with him. Our own death is identified with his, and we are identified with his resurrection. Those who are baptized into Christ, St Paul tells us, put on Christ, clothe themselves with Christ. We thereafter belong to Christ, we are marked as his own forever. Our lives are hid with God in Christ.
Evangelize, baptize, and, finally, “eucharistize.” The Easter announcement calls us to celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion. It compels us to honor the command of Christ on the night before he was betrayed to take, bless, break, and give, that we may receive his body and blood, given for the life of the world, that we may be his body, given for the life of the world. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast.” It is a feast that transcends time and space. In the liturgy of the Eucharist, we who are temporal participate in that which is eternal, earth is assumed into heaven, then becomes now and now becomes then, there becomes here and here becomes there, the notions of past, present, and future lose their meaning. In Holy Communion, we know death to be robbed of its sting because it becomes the gateway to eternal life.
We who are “ear-witnesses” have heard the announcement: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. We are drawn by that proclamation to evangelism—the telling and hearing of good news, to baptism—the identification of our lives with Christ’s dying and rising, and to the celebration of the Eucharist—the manifestation of the power of that resurrection until he comes again.
Christ is risen! Alleluia and Amen!