Easter honors Christ’s legacy, the Father’s will

Father John A. Kiley

An ancient mausoleum lies within the heart of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Although only a flight of stairs away from the enshrined tip of Mount Calvary, the age-old tomb is venerated by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as the site of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Holy Mass may be offered on the very stone slab that sealed Jesus’ fate on Good Friday and that was thrown to one side on Easter Sunday. It is indeed a hallowed spot.
A much more modern twist has been generated by some pilgrims to the Holy Land who consider a rock-cut tomb unearthed in 1867 to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Garden Tomb, as it is sweetly called, does better present a reflective yet still ancient sight much more than the traditional but “architecturally altered and time-damaged” tomb within the very busy Holy Sepulchre church on Calvary hill. And St. John’s Gospel account does indeed state: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein no one was ever laid (Jn 19:41).” Alas, much of the Garden Tomb is dated from the 7th century before Christ which contradicts the Gospel account which states that Jesus was laid in a “new” tomb carved out of rock. Since 1894, the Garden Tomb and its surrounding park have been maintained as a place of Protestant prayer and reflection by an alliance of Evangelical churches. The environment is indeed much more meditative and contemplative than the tourist -thronged Sepulchre church.
Archaeological facts notwithstanding, there is something very appropriate and quite symbolic about Jesus returning from the dead in the midst of a garden. After all, didn’t the whole saga of sin and redemption begin in a garden, amid Eden’s flowery stems and fruit filled branches? Through Christ, salvation history has happily come full circle. Adam and Eve brought a curse upon mankind through their selfish disobedience. Now Jesus Christ earns redemption for mankind through his selfless compliance with the Father’s mysterious providence. Adam and Eve’s sad encounter at the tree of life is undone by Christ’s noble sacrifice on the tree of death. History is reversed and hope is reborn.
The hapless Eve and the unlucky Adam appreciated only the immediate results of their risky behavior: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Our first parents’ supernatural nearsightedness was their undoing; they failed to grasp the big picture which would have ranked God’s Will ahead of their own inclinations. Jesus, on the other hand, was entirely attuned to the Will of his Father, even at the expense of his own well-being. The first couple opted for the path of indulgence: “good for food…pleasing to the eye…desirable for wisdom.” The Savior prudently and providentially accepted the way of sacrifice: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The fruit of Adam and Eve’s unhappy garden experience is the universal human inheritance of an innate selfishness that has come to be called Original Sin. Mankind finds it very easy to get immersed in the immediate moment which sometimes could lead to serious sin and more often than not results in a vast waste of time. The remedy for this spiritual myopia is, of course, the virtue of faith. Jesus on the Cross was concerned not with his own immediate suffering but with the broader picture that was the Will of his heavenly Father. Christ’s appreciation that God’s eternal plan of truth and love would outweigh any immediate good that coming down from the Cross might effect allowed him to survive those agonizing hours on Calvary. Christ as Son of God had an innate faith in the reality of those “things to be hoped for” and those “things unseen,” to use St. Paul’s happy phrases. The Christian life well-led allows these “hoped for” and “unseen” things to grow evermore real and compelling. It was his keen vision of eternity, his faith in God’s ultimate plan, that sustained Christ on the Cross. And it is this same keen vision that, through the Church, is Christ’s legacy to the believing world.
A faith-filled and faithful believing community, which the Church is called to be, is the greatest tribute afforded to the work of Christ and the wonder of Easter. Easter marks mankind’s second chance to be steadfast sons and reliable daughters keenly intent on their Father’s Will.