Easter Message from Archbishop Gabriel of Comana
fathers and brothers in the priesthood,
dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
‘If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain’, wrote St Paul in the first Epistle to the Corinthians. The Apostle was sad to learn that some members of this newly-formed community, dear to his heart, were arguing about the very thing that is the foundation of Christian hope: the Resurrection of the Lord. This is the cornerstone on which all St Paul’s preaching depends, on which the whole the faith of the Church depends.
Many people today balk at the Resurrection as a real event. Yet we must nevertheless recognise that the vast majority of people believe that there is something after death, perhaps even another life. This idea underpins all religions, and even the understanding of many agnostics. It is difficult to believe that all human experience will collapse into nothing. Can anyone live with such a lethal thought?
We should notice that St Paul invites us to believe in resurrection as something that goes without saying, yet he says, ‘If Christ is not risen’. The emphasis is on the actual person of Christ. The Resurrection is not an abstract idea, a more or less vague belief, a heartening thought. It is first of all an authentic reality experienced by the incarnate God. Having descended into the realm of death, he rose again after three days.
The risen Christ has a very special way of appearing to the witnesses of this event. To the women at the tomb, he says, ‘Rejoice!’ (Mt 28:9); to Mary Magdalene he says, ‘Do not touch me’; but to Thomas he says, ‘Put your hand in my wounds’; to Peter he repeats three times the question, ‘Do you love me?’; while to Paul he appears with a blinding flash of light on the road to Damascus. Let us try to ask ourselves how the risen Christ appears in the life of each one of us, how he is leading us ‘from death to life, from earth to heaven, singing the hymn of victory.’
It is with the risen Christ, the conqueror of death, that we enter into communion when, in the Liturgy, he gives himself to us as food, and thereby communicates to us the strength we need to break the bonds that hold us captive in the shadow of death. We will not necessarily experience the dazzling vision that overwhelmed St Paul on the road to Damascus. Our own road to Damascus may well last as long as our earthly existence; but at its end, there will spring up for us that same dazzling sight, breaking out into joy without end, because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Archbishop Gabriel of Comana
Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch
Paris, 8 April 2007