The introductory statement of the priest on Holy Saturday night is: “On this most holy night when Jesus Christ passed from death to life, the Church invites her children throughout the world to come together in vigil and prayer. This is the Passover of the Lord. If we honor the memory of his death and resurrection by hearing his word and celebrating his mysteries, we may be confident that we shall share his victory over death and live with him forever in God.” This statement perfectly summarizes the sense, meaning, and effect of Christ’s resurrection. It also invites us to experience his resurrection in our lives and share his victory over sin and death by hearing God’s word and celebrating the mysteries of our salvation. The resurrection represented the Passover of the Lord from death to life so my Easter message this year is: Christ Our Passover is Risen from Death to Life. For, the resurrection was not only the moment God raised Jesus from the grave but also a ‘pass-over’ from death to life. Our new life in Christ should equally be a pass-over from death to life. This is what is required of us in this feast we celebrate. St. Paul said in 1Cor.5:7-8 that we should celebrate this festival not with the old leaven of ourselves, that is, the leaven of malice and evil but with the new leaven of sincerity and truth. We therefore, need to pass from sin and death to a blessed new life in Christ, in order to, share his victory over evil, sin, and death.
God’s chosen people were saved from slavery and death as a result of the blood of the Passover lamb that was smeared on their doorposts. The angel of death passed over their houses when it saw the sign of blood on their doorposts. The Passover feast was, therefore, celebrated in remembrance of that night when God saved his chosen people from death. For the whole human race that was enslaved by sin and evil following Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Jesus Christ is now our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed and he shed his blood on the cross, died and rose from the dead, in order to, save us from sin and death and bring us to eternal life in God. We are saved from the power of evil and death through the blood, death, and resurrection of Christ. For his suffering, sacrifice, death, and resurrection are more effective, precious, and acceptable to God than the blood of the Passover lamb of old. There is a clear difference, in that sense, between the sacrifice and power of the Passover lamb of old and Jesus, our new Passover Lamb. For, Jesus saved the whole human race through his suffering, death, and resurrection. He said in Jn. 10:17-18 that, “God loved him because he laid down his life, in order to, take it up again. That no one takes it from him but he laid it down and he has the power to take it up again.” Our celebration of Christ’s pass-over from death to life, in order to, save us from sin and evil and bring us to eternal life should, therefore, be a meaningful and memorable event for us.
On several occasions during his public ministry, the Scribes, Pharisees, and Chief Priests were determined to kill Jesus. They attempted to arrest him and put him to death because they did not believe him and his teachings as the Son of God. But he eluded them because his hour of death and glorification on the cross had not yet come. So when they succeeded in falsely accusing him before Pilate and he was condemned to death, crucified, died, and buried in the tomb, they were fully convinced that he will no longer exist. He will also not rise again as he promised his followers so they will cease to identify themselves with him and abandon his teachings. His tomb was then sealed with a huge stone and heavily guarded by soldiers to prevent his disciples from stealing his body and create the impression that he is risen. So they fully ensured that Jesus did not live again but they failed because death could not hold him captive forever. The stone and soldiers could not also obstruct his resurrection. On the third day, he was raised to life by God in accordance with the Scriptures and he passed from death to life. He rose from the dead as he promised and conquered sin and death through his resurrection from the dead. For, “his resurrection was not a mere return to earthly life, like the resuscitation of the daughter of Jairus in Mk. 5:22-24, 35-44. It was, rather, his passage through death to his definitive and glorious life that inaugurated the final resurrection of all human beings and our world.”
The feast of Easter that recalls and celebrates Christ’s glorious passage from death to life is, consequently, a great occasion of joy and peace for all Christians and members of his Mystical Body, the Church. For, Easter celebrates Christ’s victory over death, goodness over sin and evil, life over death, light over darkness, justice over corruption, and faith over fear. Christ our pass-over absolutely destroyed the power and influence of evil, corruption, darkness, and fear when he passed from death to life and brought us eternal life with God. So there is no longer any cause or reason to believe there is still a conflict between life and death, light and darkness, hope and desolation, goodness and corruption. For, Christ our pass-over has passed from death to life and enabled us to also rise with him to a new and glorious life. We should not, therefore, allow ourselves to be overruled and intimidated by death, darkness, fear, and hopelessness again because we have gained new life in Christ, our risen Lord. We should not, therefore, lose sight of the victory, power, and peace that the risen Christ has obtained for us when we experience suffering, hardship, and disappointment in life. As followers and believers of the risen Christ, we should always count on his victory and power and regain our freedom, dignity, and salvation as God’s children.
As our pass-over from death to life, sin to holiness and goodness, the risen Christ is our passage and lifeline to eternal life with God. We can also pass from death to life and experience eternal life with God as a result of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. This is the meaning and significance of our baptism into new life in Christ. We sacramentally died with Christ in the waters of baptism and rose with him to new life in the Spirit. St. Paul affirmed this in Rom. 6:3-4 that, “when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. By our baptism, we were buried with him and shared his death so that as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of God, the Father, we too might rise to new life.” So if Christ had not passed from death to life and if we never shared his death, we cannot rise with him to newness of life and gain eternal life with God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church stated in nos. 665, “Christ’s Resurrection – and the risen Christ himself – is the principle and source of our resurrection … For, as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” We have a good reason, in that sense, to thank God for Christ’s victory over death and joyfully celebrate his resurrection at Easter with confidence and hope in our final passage from death to life at the end of time.
Our lives should not, therefore, be directed and influenced by the forces of evil from which Christ set us free through his death and resurrection. We should reject everything in our lives that is contrary to our new life in Christ, be faithful to our baptismal promises, and be united, dedicated, and obedient to Christ, our risen Lord. We cannot, for that reason, be indifferent in our conduct and actions as we celebrate the feast of Easter. Our celebration of Christ’s resurrection and its meaning for us should inspire and motivate us to conform ourselves to the life of the risen Christ. So we should celebrate this festival, according to St. Paul in 1Cor.5:8, not with the old yeast of malice and evil but with the new yeast or unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Our disposition and values should be totally different from our former way of life and the lives of those who have not passed over with Christ from death to new life. If we transform ourselves anew and live the life of the risen Christ, we will become living and authentic witnesses of Christ our pass-over in our own day and age.
If the guards and huge stone at the entrance of the tomb failed to prevent Jesus from passing from death to life, nothing should equally be an obstacle for us to free ourselves from the forces of sin and evil and pass-over with Christ to newness of life. We should not allow ourselves to be confined and burdened by anything that prevents us from experiencing the glorious life of the risen Christ. So on this day we celebrate the feast of Easter and throughout our lives, we should live and manifest our faith and hope in the risen Christ through whom we gained eternal life with God by his death and resurrection. As the Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, I wish the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, and lay faithful of the Diocese, our Muslim friends and other believers, Gambians at home and abroad, and all God’s people around the world a solemn, blessed, meaningful, peaceful, and healthy Easter and Easter Season. May God grant you and your families and friends the fullness of eternal life, joy, peace, and freedom that he gained for us through our risen Christ, our pass-over from death to life.
Your Servant in Christ,
Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy, C.S.Sp.
Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.