You know the story: It begins with challenging evil, motivated by love, upsetting the established world order. It encompasses treachery and betrayal by a loved one, involving a willing state in the wicked design and a miscarriage of justice.
While this is a summary of the history of much of the Church — with different historical characters in the various roles — it, of course, stems from the original story of the betrayal, passion and death of Our Blessed Lord.
Underlying all of it was lies — lies and treachery by those closest to Him. Most were weak and cowards, but one was a devil.
Little has changed, sadly. The Church still has men in its inner sanctum serving the Devil and not Christ. It shouldn't surprise us, really, as much as it does anger us, justifiably. The serpent has offspring, period.
The religious leaders of the day in Our Lord's time were directly named by Him as being those offspring; "Your father is the Devil," He thundered at them. And His reason for charging them so was their love of lies. They had no truth in them, just as their father, the Devil, does not — which Our Lord stressed to them.
They rejected and eventually murdered Our Lord because they hated truth, and truth it was, personally standing right before them. That was not lost on Pilate either, when he looked straight into the eyes of Truth Himself and dismissed the entire notion of its existence. The state will always cooperate with demon-inspired men to destroy truth, and oftentimes those men wear religious garb.
Nothing has changed, really, from Israel 2,000 years ago to communist China and the Vatican today, and thousands of examples in between, on that well-worn road of history.
But here's the point: That history comes to an end. And at the end of that road, it's the Last Day — the resurrection. Easter celebrates the final victory, realized in advance in the person of Christ, in His physical body, but promised for all of us in the future if we persevere.
While God's love is unconditional, salvation is not. No one can hope to rise in Christ — pretend they will see their own Easter Sunday on the Last Day — who has not first suffered through the passion and death of being His follower. It's not possible.
And we must live in this hope. Faith believes because God has promised. Hope lives because trust is instilled through that faith. This was the sad irony of that first Easter. Christ's enemies believed He would rise, yet His friends did not.
The Jews placed the guard around the tomb not just to prevent the Apostles from stealing the lifeless body, as they told Pilate, but because they knew He was from God. They knew He had raised Lazarus from the dead. They knew their own consciences were seared, and that He knew their inner thoughts. They knew He was reading their minds. They knew He knew their hearts and their wills. He was not just a rabble-rouser to them — someone challenging the established order and threatening their power. They knew, however dimly, He was from God.
That's why in the parable of the vineyard, Our Lord attributes to them the place of the servants who, having taken over the vineyard and having killed all the messengers sent to them, say of the master's son, "Let us kill him and then the inheritance shall be ours."
They knew He was from God. They had perhaps not pieced together He was God, but they knew beyond a doubt, this was not just any man. He told them, in fact, time and again, Who His Father was. They feigned horror over blasphemy and so forth, but as the evangelist tells us repeatedly, He spoke with an authority no one else did.
They were so intrigued by Him that they demanded to know where He came from — by what authority he preached and cured and raised people from the dead — to which He told them He would not answer if they would not admit where John the Baptist's authority came from.
They knew the prophecies, backwards and forwards. They knew He raised people from the dead. They even plotted to kill Lazarus again to quash the evidence and testimony to Our Lord's power.
They knew He was from God, and as a result, they knew that if God wanted, He would raise Him from the dead. He had, in fact, told them — told them in advance. They even said so to Pilate: "This imposter said He would rise from the dead, so place a guard around the tomb."
And the proof that they knew was when the soldiers came scurrying back to them after the resurrection, telling them what they had seen of the angel and stone being rolled back. The Pharisees did not fall to their knees in repentance and belief, but rather bribed the guards to spread a lie.
As Our Blessed Lord had said, "Even if one were to come back from the dead, you would not believe."
They knew. But they did not believe because knowledge is not faith.
So, one of the saddest scenes in all history is that — as the enemies of Christ believed the fact that He would and indeed had risen from the dead — the Apostles did not.
In fact, the gospel tells us that Our Lord had to upbraid them for their disbelief, even as He stood fully glorified right in front of them, having to command them to give Him something to eat to prove it to them — even ordering Thomas on the next Sunday to put his finger into His hands and his hands into His side and persist no longer in his disbelief, but believe.
In these tumultuous times, we must not be like the Apostles that night, crouched in fear and hiding. We know the Risen Lord, and we must act accordingly.
The world seems like it is on the brink of insanity, but none of this can disturb your inner peace. You may not permit that to happen. That would be to take your eyes off Our Lord and take account of the wind and the waves, and begin to sink, as Peter did.
The world today, through the providence of Our Blessed Lord, gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our faith in Him like few times in history have ever afforded.
We are indeed right now in a Holy Thursday garden, perhaps a Good Friday Golgotha. But for those who believe — who have faith, cling to the hope and love Our Lord — Easter will dawn.
Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen.