Living in hope despite...

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

At about 3:30 Easter Sunday morning, two processions coming from different assembly points are started in practically all parishes in the Philippines for the "encuentro" (meeting). One group composed of women follow the statue of the Sorrowful Mother while another group composed of men follow the statue of the Risen Christ. When the two groups converged at a designated place (usually the public plaza), an "angel," a four or five year old girl dressed as an angel, is lowered from a makeshift arch and takes off the mourning veil of the Sorrowful Mother. Then the joyful hymn Regina Coeli is sung by a choir of little children:

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluja!
For He whom you were chosen to bear, alleluja!
Has risen as He said, alleluja!
Pray for us to God, Alleluja!

The two groups, now merged into one, then process to the parish Church for the celebration of the Easter Dawn Mass.

This practice is based on an early Christian tradition that after Jesus was raised from the dead, He first appeared to Mary. And why not? She loved Him as only a mother could and suffered the most during His passion and death. Thus He owed it to her to make her the first to receive the joy of His resurrection and enjoy its fruits.

The Gospel reading (Jn. 20: 1-9) talks about Jesus' resurrection in terms of the "mystery of the empty tomb." When told by the women who went to the tomb early Sunday morning, Peter and John rushed to the tomb. On entering the cave where the tomb was, they saw everything as the women had told them. Confronted with this, John, the beloved disciple, speaking for himself in his gospel, "saw and believed."

Some years ago, I saw (perhaps you did too), a religious poster which says: "Christ is the answer!" My first reaction after reading it was to ask, "If Christ is the answer, what is the question´s He is answering?"

Some of these questions may be as follows: Why is there so much suffering -- trials, sickness, poverty, injustice -- in the world? Why do innocent children suffer and die in wartorn countries, e.g., Israel and Palestine? Why the waste in the North while people in the South are starving? Is life just one series of trials and sufferings? What is life for? Finally, after death, what?

To answer these questions, we have to go back to what immediately happened after the Fall of our first parents when suffering, sin and death became part an parcel of human existence. Then God said to the serpent (Satan): "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel" (Gen. 3:15). This is the first promise of the coming of the Savior of humankind.

From this promise, we are given an inkling that the descendants of the woman and Satan would be engaged in mortal combat. Ultimately, the woman's offspring would triumph: "He will strike at your head," i.e., deal Satan a fatal blow, while Satan's offspring would merely "strike at his heel." This last gives us an indication that the woman's offspring would be a "Suffering Servant" (a theme extensively developed by the prophet Isaiah).

True enough, when the promised Savior came in the person of Jesus Christ, He came as the Suffering Servant. And at the appointed time, Jesus, Son of God though He was, underwent His passion and death to carry out in love His Father's will. For this reason, His Father raised Him up from the dead. This signaled our redemption, too, for with Jesus raised, we too were raised up with Him and thus were freed from the clutches of Satan.

Because of the resurrection, we can now have the answer to life's fundamental questions raised earlier. It was Jesus' complete obedience to the will of the Father "even unto death on the cross" that led to His resurrection and victory over sin and death, over Satan himself. Uniting our pains and sufferings in faith and love to Jesus' own passion and death may also lead us to our own glorification, to a new life, to eternal life.

In other words, the message of Easter is this: Yes, we have suffered and continue to suffer. Yes, we have sinned and a long list of future sins still awaits us. But despite all these, we continue to hope, remain a hope-ful people. And this because with Jesus' resurrection we have become heirs of the fruits of His resurrection.

Mama Mary, you were the first to enjoy the fruits of the resurrection. Help us in our unbelief and questionings. Help us to put our faith and trust in your Risen Son so that we, despite or rather because of our pains, sufferings and sins, will also attain our own glorification.

A Blessed Easter to all!