BY FR CARLOS LUIS
Other than Christmas celebration, it is Easter that truly brings the Goan Catholic community together. Palm Sunday begins the Holy Week with Jesus being welcomed to Jerusalem.
Thereafter, on Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the institution of the most Holy Eucharist and Priesthood, and the act of total self-giving in service and charity.
On Good Friday, we meditate on the love of Christ who hangs on the cross that once was a symbol of shame but is now of victory. So, the Lenten season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving ends with the joyous Easter.
Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection three days after his death -- in other words, a celebration of his victory over death.
Every year to commemorate this triumph of Jesus, the youth in Goa enthusiastically prepare a tomb in a significant place within or outside the Church with the Risen Jesus, the champion of our faith, dressed in white, shiny, radiant, and dazzling clothes.
During the Easter Vigil, the most Holy Night, the dramatic representation of the resurrection of Christ is a sight to be witnessed.
Jesus’s resurrection for Christians all over the world means the gift of forgiveness of one’s sins and eternal life to all those who believe in Him.
As Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11: 25).
Goans participate in this vigil renewing their baptismal promises with the light of Christ in their hand and getting themselves sprinkled with the newly blessed holy water.
After the Holy Eucharist, the sharing of love and compassion of the Risen Christ begins through the preparation of sumptuous meals and sharing them with the least cared for.
Goans partake in the preparation of Easter eggs by vividly colouring them. Easter eggs are a sign of new life, rebirth, and fertility. Interestingly, every year Easter is celebrated on a different date.
The word Easter was used much before Christianity made it popular. It originates from ‘Eostre’ an Anglo-Saxon goddess of the spring season.
In any case, what we celebrate on Easter is a true event in the life of Jesus and the community that closely followed in his footsteps.
Jesus suffered for approximately six hours on the cross and at 3 noon, he cried out, “It is accomplished” and commended his spirit to God the Father Almighty.
When he died, it is said, everything turned gloomy and the land was shaken by an earthquake.
Pilate wanted to confirm that Jesus was dead and therefore ordered thrusting a spear into Jesus’ side through which gushed water and blood, a clear indication of his death.
His body was taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of his mother. Thereafter, it was wrapped in linen and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which the Roman guards watched carefully 24x7.
But shortly thereafter, it is said that Jesus’s followers who had gone into hiding suddenly started to proclaim the Risen Lord risking their lives.
Dr Michael Morrison has researched different aspects to understand the resurrection of Jesus and the sudden behaviour of the disciples.
He considered the following five to be possible explanations: Jesus didn’t really die on the cross; Jesus’ body was stolen; the disciples hallucinated; it is an account that is legendary and it really happened for sure.
Two thousand years ago, not all believed that Jesus died on the cross. Some believed that Jesus did not die but only lost consciousness and was revived to life again in the tomb.
This is called the ‘swoon theory’. But Dr Morrison’s research of both Jewish and Roman accounts of death proved that Jesus died and it was even verified by Pilate. The secular and contemporary historians, Lucian, Josephus and Tacitus also agree that Jesus died on the cross.
Now, was Jesus’s body stolen? The body was buried in a significant place, in a tomb that belonged to a Sanhedrin Council member. More so, it was guarded by Roman soldiers making it difficult for anyone to roll the stone and steal the body.
However, the stone was rolled aside for witnesses to enter and see the empty tomb. During the first century in the Jewish culture, women were considered to be unreliable witnesses. Nevertheless, the first witnesses to the resurrected Jesus were women.
Were the disciples hallucinating by any chance? If they were, how could all of them hallucinate at the same time and see the same vision? Psychologists confirm that only one person can hallucinate at a time and not a group.
Is the story of resurrection a legend? If it was, it wouldn’t have spread so fast. Historians like A N Sherwin-White argue saying that Christians started singing hymns and recite the creed two to three years after Jesus’s crucifixion.
The Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples on more than ten occasions showing them his wounded hands and feet and telling them to touch him. He also ate with the disciples and later appeared to 500 more followers which Peter testifies to and this could never be a fake testimony by so many people.
Dr Morrison had his doubts as to why the disciples will go to the extent of being tortured, humiliated and killed. There was something that had changed for the mourning, hiding and fearful disciples.
Why would the disciples be ready to sacrifice their lives for a lie? Therefore, Dr Morrison was convinced that Jesus had truly risen. If Jesus did not rise again, Christianity would have been finished at the death of Jesus on the cross.
But it continues to stay alive and active through the working of the Holy Spirit and the Risen Lord that gives us strength to carry out the entrusted mission.
Easter gives us the hope that we will die in Christ and resurrect again in Him and that is reason enough to celebrate. We have the possibility of dying to our old sinful selves and resurrecting into a new being in Jesus Christ.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
(Carlos Luis is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and is currently the mission secretary of the ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on literature and films that mirror life.)