Easter Sunday 2020
I remember a story by then Jesuit Conference for East Asia and Oceania President Fr Adolfo Nicolas about his home province, Japan, told when I was a novice. Hiroshima, 8:15 in the morning of 6 August 1945, an American B-29 Bomber dropped “Little Boy” on the city. The bombing immediately wiped out 90 percent of its population, at least 80,000 people. They were burned instantly by absorbing the fireball at 6,000 degrees Celsius. Others would eventually die due to radiation. But a few survived, including nine Jesuits in the novitiate with Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the novice master. The following day, the Jesuits surveyed the damage and offered a Mass. It was heartbreaking and Fr Nico surmised that perhaps it was the most difficult Eucharist at that time that Fr Arrupe had ever offered, for how could he utter: Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you) in the middle of hell?
Brothers, it’s Easter but the virus is still out. Lockdown is sustained and tombs cannot yet be emptied as the number of casualties is still on the rise. Does this celebration then seem untimely when our crossing of the Red Sea does not yet seem to be over?
Our second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians reminds us to focus our gaze on Christ as a result of our being resurrected with him. This is our situation today. This is the real status of every person who believes that Christ is fully alive and remains to be so close to us.
Traditionally, the empty tomb has become proof of resurrection. But the story of our Church tells us more than this evidence. The more real proof are the many followers who witness that the Lord has resurrected even if most of them did not see it for themselves. God is victorious both in those who died for the faith and in those who survived to continue building the Church. We have a God who can turn death into grace.
The beloved disciple in the Gospel outran Peter and easily believed that the one who loved him had resurrected even if he only saw an empty tomb. No need for more evidence. Yes, it was easier for the beloved disciple to believe. The beloved disciple’s response of love for his Lord allowed him to see beyond the tomb; allowed him to see beyond death.
The pandemic that we are suffering now does not negate, not even challenge, the aliveness of God. Rather, the resurrection converts our perspective in the face of this tragedy. That is why, our Easter celebration can never be out of place.
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that our belief in the resurrection entails a commitment, i.e. to demonstrate to every person we meet that God is alive. I think this is the best time to proclaim that the Lord is risen – in the middle of illness and death, in the middle of aloneness and uncertainty.
Indeed, it is best to proclaim when the truth is no longer dependent on whether we like it or feel it. I remember, during one of my confessions with Fr Roque Ferriols, he reminded me: huwag mong bigkasin ang pag-ibig kung kailan gusto mo lang. Subukan mong bigkasin ang pagmamahal na pinagsumpaan mo kung kailan wala ka nang nararamdaman. Diyan, makikita mo ang kapangyarihan na hindi na galling sa iyo.
Jesuit Theologian Andrew Hamilton, reflecting about that incident with Fr Pedro Arrupe in Hiroshima, mentions a tension which he probably tried to reconcile: the presence of God right there at the Mass and the presence of God outside with the dying. Fr Hamilton says that Fr Arrupe never solved this question but he never dropped it either. Instead, he moved on and lived on with the tension and held it. It formed his character.
Brothers, we may likewise never find any answer to why these things are happening but the perspective of resurrection offers us a chance to see beyond, to live with the tension, and be transformed by it. And then, we ourselves become proof that God is indeed risen. Amen.
*This homily was delivered on Easter Sunday at the Oratory of St. Ignatius, Loyola House of Studies