“Christ is risen!” “Truly He is risen!” (Χιρτός άνέστη! ΑληΘως ανέστη!) This is the traditional greeting exchanged between any two Christians on Easter Sunday in the Greek world and Oriental Church. “Christ is risen!” “Truly He is risen!” In a very real way, this greeting helps us relive the joy and wonder that must have filled the first Christians when they heard the news of this truly marvelous and unprecedented event. Death was conquered. The grave was defeated. Life was triumphant. “Christ is risen!” “Truly He is risen!”
On the first Easter Sunday, the women went to the tomb expecting to anoint the body of Jesus. The stone was already rolled back from the entry, and when they entered, they discovered the body of Jesus was gone. Instead they saw “… two men in dazzling garments” who said, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised” (Luke 24:5-6). The women returned to the apostles and disciples and told them what had happened. “Christ is risen!’’ “Truly He is risen!”
All the joy and wonder of Easter are contained in those words. As when Simon Peter and the beloved disciple saw the empty tomb and burial cloths, the reality was too much to grasp. “[T]hey did not yet understand” (John 20:9). It seemed too good to be true. Could it really be so?
I think of those moments in our lives when something happens that is too marvelous to comprehend. There are not many moments like this in our lives—the birth of a child perhaps, the discovery of love, an unexpected success, being forgiven for an offense. Imagine the joy and wonder of Mary Magdalene announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Jesus Christ rose from the dead so that we could say to each other, “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!” More importantly, the words tell us of the reality. They speak the truth.
There is much in the world today that would rob us of this joy and wonder. I am speaking here not just of cynicism fed by secularism in this “Oh, whatever” culture. I am not speaking only of the kind of blasé attitude one meets in people who are bored with life and indifferent to human suffering. All of this is bad enough. But I am speaking specifically of an attitude that ignores the right to life from conception to natural death, deprives the human person of the dignity to which he or she is entitled, and ultimately leads us to ignore pain and suffering and engage in acts of violence and disregard for the rights of others. It is an attitude that wants us to be ashamed of our Christian teaching, keep it to ourselves, and hide our happiness. But we cannot. How can we be silent about the glory of the Lord and the life He won for us? I am reminded of the words of Jesus Christ when He entered Jerusalem to shouts of praise by His disciples. The Pharisees did not want Jesus acclaimed in this way and said, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” (Luke 19:39). Jesus responded, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40).
I am reminded of a story told to me by a grandmother. It happened about four years ago when it snowed, a rare occurrence in Louisiana. Her little granddaughter was staying with her at home. When the little girl woke up in the morning and saw the snow, she opened the front door, ran into the yard, opened her arms and screamed, “Oh, grandma, it’s good to be alive.” Yes, life has something to say to us. We cannot remain silent.
This last January I had the blessing of joining three busloads of pilgrims from the Diocese traveling for the March for Life. The total crowd in Washington, D.C. was estimated to be approximately 500,000. Over half were young people below the age of 30. I remarked that it was so impressive to see how many youth took seriously the witness to life, especially that of the unborn. “Yes,” one of them said to me, “they are here because they are glad to be alive. They know that in this kind of world they could just as well have been a victim.”
To say “Christ is risen” is to profess faith in life, its power, its goodness, and its truth. If we kept silent, “the stones [would] cry out.” We cannot remain silent. No one can take our joy from us, not today or any day. Faith in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ gives us hope. Ultimately it is the source of our joy. It motivates every good deed, the forgiveness of enemies, and a love for peace. It is the foundation of Christian society, respect for our neighbor, and love for the poor. In the words of St. Paul, “… let us celebrate the feast” (I Corinthians 5:8). “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!”