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“In the end, there are only two choices: resurrection or inexorable nothingness.” This is how the great German scriptural theologian Gerhard Lohfink begins his book Is This All There Is? On Resurrection and Eternal Life.
 
Is there anyone who has not asked, “What will happen to me when I die? Where will I go? Will I simply cease to exist?” Lohfink states what may not seem to us as obvious, but is it? If nothingness is the answer, then “countless victims of war, torture, and rape, will never experience life, justice, and love and will eventually be forever forgotten.” All the hatred and mass killings as well as individual acts of horror will reign in history without any response, only the darkness of an eternal abyss.
 
The other choice is resurrection, our resurrection, not just sometime in the future but beginning now. It has already started in Christ, through his resurrection. It is obviously not a natural event but rather a pure gift from God, an act of his creative love, a new creation in Jesus Christ. Resurrection is not an afterthought by God but what was intended from the beginning of creation. It is an everlasting process that exploded forth from the resurrection of Jesus. We are all part of that process, and Lohfink sees it as happening now in our lives, slowly revealing itself through generations. It is far from complete, but it is there every day for us through the presence of the Spirit within us. When Jesus lived on earth, he healed many people, not only of their physical sickness but also of their social isolation and marginalization as outcasts. Now, he can heal us of the emotional and social distress that comes from the anxiety and depression that may impact our lives at any time, and particularly during this pandemic.
 
There were times during Jesus’ public ministry when he seemed unable to heal, as in his hometown of Nazareth, because there was a lack of faith and willingness to repent. Healing has always been a gift to us from Jesus, but to work it must be accepted, not doubted. He never coerces us. Lohfink says that Jesus “had to suffer death powerlessly, helplessly, and to its darkest depth.” In death, every Christian, and, indeed, every human being, will at first, like Jesus, be thrown into an ultimate powerlessness. And at the very same time find “ultimate closeness to Jesus.” Imagine that! In our death we find “ultimate closeness with Jesus.” That puts a different and powerful light on our death. Yes, there is a darkness, and Jesus experienced that as well, but we are not alone. We die with Jesus, as we live with Jesus.
 
All of this starts with the resurrection of Jesus and continues with our own death and resurrection when we will encounter God forever. Lohfink writes, “Death is encounter with the living, holy God and none other.” Saint Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians that we will see God “face to face.” People have always thought of this as a time of judgement by God, and that is indeed a scary thought, but Lohfink calls it “a judgement that clarifies, purifies and heals everything in us.” Even a very good person who has chosen God and led a life of love, honesty, justice, truth, and mercy will have faults and weaknesses such as pride and a need for affirmation and honor. There is darkness in us all that needs to be healed in our final encounter with God “in the momentary transition between death and perfection,” as Lohfink describes it. It is not something we achieve but rather a gift, pure grace from God.
 
What happens in death to our whole lives and our relationships? Will all be gone forever? Lohfink says no: “Nothing is lost, not the tiniest memory. Everything that we have experienced in this life, painfully and joyfully, will become the material of eternal life with God- but worked through, purified, transformed.” Nor is anyone’s resurrection simply an individual act. It “cannot be separated from the resurrection of all the dead,” Lohfink writes. More than that, “the whole creation will be gathered together and receive its perfection in Christ.”
 
So often, when loved ones die, we pray that they may “rest in peace.” Suppose eternal rest is also accompanied by eternal life, an “unending dynamism” in the presence of God. For Lohfink, life goes on in a totally different and glorious way and, he adds, “the happiness of being together with all those one has loved only enhances the bliss of participation in the heavenly communion of saints.”
 
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.
 
Is This All There Is? By Gerhard Lohink is published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Maryland.

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Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. Holy Week is exhausting for me as a church musician, and when I add in my family traditions, it leaves me utterly wiped out. I sleep through much of Easter Monday, and yet I love every moment of it. This year was already going to be different as I spent Tuesday of Holy Week in the cancer center of the hospital for my final chemo infusion, but then Covid-19 made it even stranger.
 
This year, there were no palms. There was no singing of the Duruffle “Ubi Caritas” and procession of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday. There were no living Stations with choral responses on Good Friday. There was no deacon proclaiming the “Exultet” on Saturday night. There was no choir to join with brass in joyous anthems of praise on Sunday. It was a very different experience.
 
There were live streams from my parish though, and I would sit with the stream on my TV, the worship aid on my phone, and the YouTube chat window open on my tablet, so I could join with my fellow parishioners in wishing each other peace. I was able to order kielbasa from my favorite Polish butcher and managed to make a babka after my neighbor shopped for me. The Polish parish of my childhood had a blessing of the baskets through FaceBook Live, so for the first time in years, my brother and I were there together.
 
On Sunday morning, I joined my parish for Mass. Our pastor had asked parishioners to send in photos of themselves so the images could be printed and fill the church. After the Gospel, he asked us if we would like to see the pictures. He stepped off the altar and past the camera, which was then flipped around, and my eyes filled with tears. There was my church, filled with my faith community. Every pew had photos of singles, couples, and families. Our pastor commented that it was the first time he had ever had dogs in church for Easter Mass. We joined in spiritual Communion and, yes, I was on my tablet wishing everyone peace and a happy Easter. It was beautiful.
 
Afterwards I shared breakfast with dear friends as we had for so many years, even if they were at their table in Albuquerque, New Mexico while I sat at mine in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. I then spent over an hour on FaceTime with my niece and ended the day on a Zoom with my father, brother, and sister-in-law, complete with visits from my cat and my dad’s dog.
 
I spent Easter alone in my house, and yet I spent Easter filled with love, community and, yes, joy. I could sing the descants for the hymns along with the stream. I could—after months of chemo and a long, scary surgery—feel as though I had been resurrected with our Lord. I spent an Easter filled with hope in the new life that is the heart of our faith. I could feel truly that I am part of an Easter people who will emerge from the tomb of Covid-19 to rise and live in the presence of our Lord.
 
Jennifer Bober is RENEW’s Manager of Marketing and Communications. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.
 
Photo courtesy of Elsa Garrison/Getty Images.

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Good and gracious God,
on this day of Easter joy, we remember the Lord Jesus
who is risen, alive, and with us.
Help us to live in the light of the Resurrection.
May we become a new creation, free in heart and spirit.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our risen Savior, Amen!

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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We cannot attend Easter Sunday Mass this year, but we still can celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ by reading, reflecting on, and praying with scripture. Read and reflect on the passages for today’s Mass and the commentaries by Bill Ayres. If you in a household with others, take turns reading the passages aloud, pausing after each to consider what word, phrase, or idea in the passage struck you. After the gospel reading, contemplate your response to the question or invite those in your household who wish to respond aloud. If you are able to share a meal with others today, join in the table prayer that follows the readings.


 
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 10:34a,37-43)
 
The Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of Saint Luke’s Gospel—an account of the birth and earliest life of the Church after the resurrection of Jesus. In the passage read today, Peter speaks for the community and recounts the major events in the life of Jesus: his anointing with the Holy Spirit; his ministry of healing; his passion, death, and resurrection; and his reappearance, eating and drinking with the disciples. Peter wants everyone to know that he and the other apostles have been “commissioned” by Jesus to preach the good news and that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
 
Imagine how difficult all this had been for Peter and the other apostles. They lost the friend and leader in whom they had placed all their hope. They gave up everything to follow him, and then they lost him to a horrible death. They could have called it quits and returned to their former lives. There were probably many who encouraged them to do so, but they persisted. Why? Because somehow, in ways we cannot understand, they still experienced the presence of Jesus, and they continued to answer his call. Because of those relatively few courageous people, we have a community, a Church today. Let us be thankful for them and let their courage strengthen us during this pandemic which has changed our lives dramatically.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23)
 
“This is the day the Lord has made: let us be glad and rejoice.” What do you rejoice in every day, even in the midst of this crisis?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 3:1-4)
 
The Resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus two thousand years ago; it is something that we live every day. We were raised with Christ. There is new life for us, not only in eternity but starting now. We can live in the Spirit because the Spirit has been given to each of us. We do not live alone. We live in the Spirit and the Spirit connects us to one another. We are brothers and sisters in the Spirit. Let us rejoice in that, even on this day—especially on this day.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20:1-9)
 
It is remarkable that, in the deeply patriarchal society of the time, the Gospel reports that a woman was the first person to discover the empty tomb and alert the apostles. It is Mary Magdalene that tells the shocking news to Peter. When Peter and John enter the tomb, they get it. His body was not stolen. Something else has happened. They see and believe. Now, their challenge is to convince the others that they are not out of their minds, that something else had happened that they could not yet explain.
 
There is no historical account of the resurrection itself. We know that it was not a resuscitation. The physical body of Jesus did die. The risen Jesus was different, but so real that the apostles and many others placed their faith in him, and he in turn gave them—and now gives us—the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our Church, even in the dark moments we share today. It is a matter of faith. It is, in fact, the basis of our faith. Happy Easter! Happy resurrection! Happy new life!
 
Question for personal reflection or sharing
 
How does your faith in Jesus Christ, who died but rose to new life, influence your response to the pandemic?
 


 
Celebrate!
Share this table prayer with those you will eat with today. Pray together:
 
Christ has risen! Alleluia!
Loving God, you who create all things
and generously give us all we need,
we praise you and thank you for being present with us now
as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Son.
Thank you for accompanying us on our Lenten journey;
please be with us during this Easter season, and always,
as we strive to live as disciples of your Son.
May the breaking of bread, today and every day,
remind us of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ,
who died to atone for our sins
and rose again so that we, too, may rise
and live in your presence forever.
O God, bless this food and we who share it,
and be with those who cannot share it with us.
We ask this in the name of the same Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
 
Alleluia! Christ has risen!
 
Prayer from Live Lent!-Year A copyright © 2016 RENEW International. All rights reserved.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Loving and caring God,
we thank you for Jesus’ love for us that led him to the cross.
Help us to embody his love
in the way we live our lives,
following his path of love, justice, and peace.
Free us from trying to create our own paths,
and help us to proceed on your path,
guided by your light
so that we can experience your joyful peace
even in the midst of the sufferings.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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