Of This We Are All Witnesses

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God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear.

Acts 2: 32-3

“The Lord has been raised.” This was the common Easter greeting in the early Church. It is far more than a historical description of an individual’s destiny, however. There is a universal and cosmic dimension to the resurrection of Jesus. In his commentary on today’s gospel passage, Daniel Harrington, SJ writes:

According to Christian faith Jesus has anticipated the eschatological resurrection that will accompany God’s kingdom in its fullness. Or to put it another way, the resurrection of Jesus is a sign that God’s kingdom has already broken into human history. (The Gospel of Matthew, p.. 432)

At the Easter vigil we witnessed the baptism of new adult Christians. The words and rituals of the rite are a reminder that in baptism we are “baptized into Christ” and we now share with him his death and resurrection. As St. Paul writes to the Romans (6: 4): “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” To be a “witness” in the scriptural sense is to live the “new life” of the resurrection.

At an Easter Vigil which I attended many years ago, a very young man, probably in his early twenties, was being baptized. With each immersion in the water, he would convulse with tears, so powerful for him was the experience. it was a powerful, and even somewhat embarrassing scene to witness. As an observer, long since past the moment of my own infant baptism, I also could not help but think that in a relatively short time this young man would realize that he was still the same person as he was before his baptism. Or was he?

The one who is buried with Christ in baptism does not cease to express the habits and dispositions of his or her developed character. In rising with Christ we do “walk in newness of life” but the new life lives in tension with the old life. We truly are delivered, with Jesus, into the life of the kingdom, “already broken into human history.” But we also often prefer the death that is the living out of our secure, comfortable, and sinful habits. God does not overpower us with new life. Rather, we are responsible to “choose life” moment to moment. The resurrection is a reality, but it requires our free and devoted participation if it is to manifest in our world. The kingdom of God has “already broken into human history” but as it is also, “within us,” we must make the moment to moment choices to express it, to be its “instrument”.

God pours out the Spirit, but we must choose to receive it and to share it. What most often keeps us from doing so? Most often in my experience it is laziness. It is what the Desert Fathers and Mothers called acedia.  It manifests in my evasions of moments of silence and prayer, of turning on the television or radio rather than attending to the Word that comes in the silence. It is engaging in gossip or small talk rather than truly encountering the other person in a receptive presence and honest conversation. It is in finding excuses for not writing to one who comes to mind, or for procrastinating from a deeper engagement in my daily tasks and responsibilities. It is in falling into my habitual ways of dulling my awareness and evading my own interiority. It is all the ways I choose the lifelessness of the comfortable and habitual rather than the freedom and newness of the possibility of Spirit inherent in each moment.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a remote historical event or a soothing and fantastic myth. It is a Divine breaking through into every aspect of human life and history. As such, it is at every moment attempting to break through our own laziness, tiredness, desperation and arrogance into the “newness of life” that is eternal life for each and all of us and for our world.

This is precisely the order and way of eternal life: that you are his and not your own and that you live for him and not for yourself, just as he became yours and lives for you and remains yours for all eternity. You must therefore live for, praise, serve, and intend his eternal glory rather than any reward, comfort, savor, consolation, or anything else which could accrue to you from such behavior, for genuine love does not seek its own advantage; it thereby possesses both God and everything else, since it overcomes nature through grace. Therefore give to Christ your Bridegroom all that you are and all that you have and are capable of, and do so with a free and generous heart. He will then give you in return all that he is and all that lies in his power. Never will you have seen a more joyful day than that. He will open for you his glorious and loving heart and the inmost part of his soul, all full of glory, grace, joy, and faithfulness. There you will find your joy and will grow and increase in heartfelt affection. The open wound in his side will be your door to eternal life and your entranceway into that living paradise which he is himself. There you will taste the fruit of eternal life which grew for us on the wood of the cross, that fruit which we had formerly lost through Adam’s pride and have now regained through the lowly death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our living paradise, for within him and from out of him flows the spring of eternal health, while from his wounds flows balm, a medicine which cures every sickness, for its aroma is so strong that it drives away all the devil’s serpents and awakens those who have died in their sins, bestowing upon them grace and eternal life.

Jan van Ruusbroec, The Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, Introduction

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