The Truth of Easter – Mon Bautista, SJ

Easter Sunday 2020

Van Meeren

My dear friends – in the world of art (particularly, in the world of paintings), art experts would tell us that there are a lot of forgeries – a lot of imitations, mere copies of original, priceless masterpieces. Thus, in the international art market today, we can find so many fake masterpieces of Picasso, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Goya and many others.

And of course, if there are fake masterpieces, then it follows that there also are “fake” artists. Now mention the reality of art forgery and we have to mention the name of Han van Meegeren. Han was a Dutch artist and is regarded as one of the most notorious art forgers of all time. Han would copy famous classical paintings, he would sell them, passing them off as genuine, original masterpieces.

His favorite paintings to copy were those classic works of his fellow Dutch master painter from the 1600snone other than the great Johannes Vermeer. It was said that once Han was able to copy and sell six fake Vermeer paintings all in all, for US$60 million!  Imagine, US$ 60 million!

However, the time finally came when Han was caught by the police. His crime? Keeping and selling supposedly priceless Dutch national treasures. And his punishment? Nothing less than death by firing squad.

Now this came about because Han was so good at copying (and so good at deceiving) that the authorities themselves believed that what he was selling were all original – all honest to goodness masterpieces.

To escape his death sentence, Han readily confessed to his works of forgery and deception. And to prove his case, he even asked for some painting materials so he could show beyond doubt that those art works he sold were actually all fakes – all just mere copies and imitations made by him. Thus, there inside his prison cell, Han painted. And after a few days, having painted a fake Vermeer inside his cell, the officials were convinced. In the end, his sentence was changed – from death by firing squad to just one year of imprisonment.

My dear friends – today, Easter Sunday, one question we can ask ourselves as believers is this: How can we know that the Easter Resurrection event really did happen – really did take place?

In other words, what proof do we have that the Easter miracle really is true?

Now, if we are looking for proof, to my mind, the greatest proof of the resurrection event is not the empty tomb. The empty tomb does not prove anything. The greatest proof of the resurrection event is not even the many appearances of Jesus to the women and to the disciples as recorded in the Gospels. No, not even that.

To many theologians and Christian historians, the greatest proof of the Resurrection event did take place would have to be the witnesses themselves – namely Peter and company. In particular, the greatest proof of the truthfulness and authenticity of the Resurrection is the deep, personal, radical conversion and transformation that clearly took place in the hearts of the disciples.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ – without a shadow of a doubt, Peter and the other disciples underwent so much change – so much transformation. And this explains why the Peter of the Acts of the Apostles is so different from the Peter of the four Gospels. In fact, the disciples too of the Acts of the Apostles are so different from the disciples we see in the Gospels. And precisely, what is most obvious in all these is that Peter and company had changed most dramatically.

WHY so?   HOW so?

Well, our only logical and acceptable explanation can be nothing else but the event of the Resurrection itself, the miracle of miracles – Jesus rising from the dead.

In other words, Peter and the disciples were transformed – because and only because – the Resurrection of our Lord is for real. His rising from the dead is for real. And as such, they actually saw, met and encountered up close our risen Lord himself. And it was these face to face encounters – these face to face meetings (and nothing less) that could have brought about so much transformation – so much metamorphosis (as it were) in them.

Imagine, from being so afraid, so faint-hearted, cowardly men (saksakan ng duwag, takot na takot, litong lito) they changed not only so remarkably but also so suddenly, so instantly, into being most courageous, most fearless witnesses of our Lord and his Resurrection.

My dear friends, we all know very well that people do not just change – people do not just transform radically, overnight, in a flash – just like that. Trained psychologists and therapists will tell us that for sure – there is no such thing as instant conversion, no such thing as instant transformation. Nevertheless, in the case of Peter and the disciples they did change – most radically and dramatically, in an instant, in a flash.

And again, the only reasonable explanation is because they did see the risen Lord (with their own eyes), they did meet the risen Jesus (face to face), yes – fully alive – Buhay na buhay – once again. They did talk to him. They did spend quality time together, interacting much with him in a most personal way. And all these direct – personal – intimate – encounters with the risen Lord made all the difference – so much so that after the Resurrection, they were all too willing to live for the faith and also, just too willing to suffer, to be persecuted, to be tortured, to be imprisoned and even to be killed for the faith.

Surely, the disciples could not have faked all these changes. They could not have fabricated all these major alterations in their lives. Precisely, how could anyone pretend and fake actual persecution? Or how could anyone pretend and fake real imprisonment and even honest to goodness martyrdom, all in the name of faith and hope in the risen Lord? Pinapatay ka na. Tinotorture ka na – how can you fake all that?

This way, everything points to nothing else (or to no one else) except to the witnesses themselves – the first disciples themselves. Undeniably, they are the greatest proof – the greatest evidence that the Easter miracle really did happen – that it really did take place.

Yes indeed, the Resurrection, the Easter miracle is for real. And because of this, our Christian faith is for real.  And exactly, this is the Good News that we are celebrating today – Easter Sunday.

AND of course, there is nothing fake – nothing deceptive about our Lord’s Easter Miracle. The Resurrection/Easter Miracle is Good News, at its best – Good News, at its finest.

Surely, Easter cannot be fake news. It can never be fake news. Today, we live in a culture of fake news. In fact, we see it and we hear it all the time – everywhere. And as we know quite well (too well, in fact,), fake news does not last. Fake news does not endure. This is so because fake news does not possess the capability to withstand the test of time. And sooner or later – (whether it’s one week, one month, one year, twenty – fifty years) the actual truth will come out. The actual truth will prevail. As it always does.

Likewise, and more importantly, fake news will not possess the abiding, staying power – the enduring force to touch and change hearts, to make a real difference in people’s lives and heal and transform people, bringing out the best in them.

Simply put – lies beget lies. Deceptions beget deceptions and it ends there. And we saw this in our earlier story with Han – his whole life, talented and gifted as he was, had become one big lie, one big hoax – bringing out the worst in him.

But, on the other hand, with truth – truth begets truth. Authenticity begets authenticity. And this is all the more true with the Easter/Resurrection story, which can be considered as the mother of all truthsthe truth of all truths. And this exactly was what the truth of Easter did to the disciples – the first witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection.

Which is why, if, we do away with the truth of Easter – if we do away with the truth of Christ’s resurrection, then the whole of our Christian faith will not make sense. It will fall apart. In fact, nothing will make sense. Our very life, our very existence in this world will not make sense. As St. Paul insists – “If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is useless. We are still in our sins and we are the most pitiable of all people.”

And so my dear friends, our witnessing should continue. Our living out of our Easter story should continue. This is the very challenge of Easter in our time, especially with so much suffering, even with so much hunger and even with this covid-19 pandemic that we face. The challenge here is to just keep on trusting – (tiwala lang) – to just keep on holding on to this truth – and to just keep on giving courageous witnessing to this core truth that Easter is for real – meaning that Christ is risen. He is alive.

And because He is alive, then, it follows that –

Faith is greater than doubt.

Hope is greater than fear and discouragement.

Light is greater than darkness

Love is greater than hate.

and of course – Life (itself) is greater than death.

A BLESSED and GRACE-FILLED EASTER to all of us.

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