Sunday, April 9, 2023
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Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)

aster teaches us about the victory and triumph of ‘Truth’ and the ‘Just’ over the forces of evil and darkness. Thus, in our Easter reflection this year, we would like, once more, to take our bearing from the following verses of St. John’s Gospel:

“Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name! … ‘Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be driven out.’ And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.” (John 12: 27-34).

The above passage from John’s Gospel, is the Evangelist’s description of Jesus’ long-term struggle and ‘Calvary.’ The struggle against the forces of darkness and evil, and the capacity of Jesus to hold the tensions that have followed him all along his earthly life and journey as the Incarnate Son of God, to the end; his triumph and resurrection from the dead after the crucifixion on the cross.

It started right from the time of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem in the Manger, the attempt by Herod to eliminate him as a child, the flight to Egypt of the Holy Family to save the life of the Child Jesus from the evil design of Herod and his gang of banditry. Jesus’ earthly life, was indeed, a life, lived in constant tensions and turbulence of the world and its evil men.

Furthermore, in Jesus’ public ministry and earthly life, we noticed the long-term drawn out Calvary of rejection he suffered at the hands of the world powers – political, religious, traditional and legal institutions of his day; which finally, culminated in his condemnation to death on the Cross by the same ruling institutions. The passion, crucifixion on the cross on Good Friday, and his death, was not however, the end of the story. There was to be resurrection after death, ascension, and glorification at the right-hand of the Father in Heaven!

On the third day, the Easter Sunday, God vindicated his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who was unjustly condemned to death on the Cross by wicked and sinful men of this world. On Easter Sunday of the Resurrection, Jesus triumphed over the powers and principalities of this world – the prince of the world, Satan and his human agents. Jesus nailed the sin of humankind and Satan on the Cross, and by so doing became our Savior and Redeemer. He was vindicated by His Father, who raised him from the dead on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection.

This is the message of our redemption and salvation we celebrate at Easter, and each day of our lives as Christians, especially, during the Eucharistic celebrations. Christ is our Pasch! Our Pasch was immolated for us, for our salvation and liberation from the shackles of sin and damnation.

Easter: Overcoming the Cross & Tensions

The theme of the cross and tensions, as well as victory and triumph, is very central in John 12: 27-34. In this passage, John tells us about Jesus’ tension and his triumph over it as he carried out his Father’s will to the point of allowing himself be crucified on the Cross by men, to rise again from the dead on the third day. John tells us the meaning and significance of that struggle between tension, victory and triumph in Jesus’ earthly life, and what it turned out to be, its implications for the disciples of Jesus – the church and the society in which we live.

It is very interesting to note that John does not tell us of the agony in Gethsemane. It is here that he shows us Jesus fighting his battle with his human longing to avoid the Cross. No one wishes to die at thirty-three; and no one wishes to die upon a cross. There would have been no virtue in Jesus’ obedience to God, if it had come easily and without cost. Real courage does not mean not being afraid. Real courage means to be terribly afraid, and yet to do the thing that ought to be done. That was the courage of Jesus. In Jesus’ courage to face the cross in obedience to the Father’s will, we meet the horror of death and the ardor of obedience. “God’s will meant the Cross and Jesus had to nerve himself to accept it.”

But the end of the story is not tension; it is triumph and certainty in the face of danger. As William Barclay explains it, Jesus was certain that if went on, something would happen which would break the power of evil once and for all. If he was obedient to the Cross, he was sure that a death blow would be struck to the ruler of this world, Satan. It was to be one last struggle which would break for ever the power of evil.

Moreover, Jesus was certain that if he went to the Cross, the sight of his unpraised and crucified figure would in the end draw all men and women to him; but he knew that the only way to conquer and subdue the hearts of men and women for ever was to show himself to them on the Cross. “He began with the tension; he ended with the triumph and victory.”

In particular, what came between the cross and victory – tension and the triumph and changed the one into the other, was the voice of God:

“Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!

A voice came from heaven. ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’.” (John 12:27-28).

It was the voice of God. Behind this coming of the voice of God lies something great and deep. For instance, there was a time when the Jews really and fully believed that God spoke direct to men. It was directly that God spoke to the child Samuel (1Samuel 3:1-14). It was directly that God spoke to Elijah, when he had fled from the avenging Jezebel (1Kings 19: 1-18). It was directly that Eliphaz the Temanite had claimed to hear the voice of God (Job 4: 16).

However, by the time of Jesus the Jews had ceased to believe that God spoke directly. The great days were past; God was far too far now; the voice that had spoken to the prophets was silent. Nowadays they believed in what they called the Bath qol, a Hebrew phrase, which means the daughter voice or the daughter of a voice. When the bath qol spoke, it quoted scripture most often. It was not really the direct voice of God; it was what we might call the echo of his voice, a distant, faint whisper instead of a direct, vital communication.

But it was not the echo of his voice that Jesus heard; it was the very voice of God himself. Here is a great truth. With Jesus, there comes to men and women not some distant whisper of the voice of God, not some faint echo from the heavenly places, but the unmistakable accents of God’s direct voice.

It is to be noted that the voice of God came to Jesus at all the great moments of his life. It came at his baptism when he first set out upon the work God had given him to do (Mark 1:11. It came on the Mount of Transfiguration when he finally decided to take the way which led to Jerusalem and the Cross (Mark 9:7). And now it came to him when his human flesh and blood had to be strengthened by divine aid for the ordeal of the Cross.

The lesson of all this can be summarized as follows: What God did for Jesus, he does for every man and woman. When he sends us out upon a road, he does not send us without directions and without guidance. When he gives us a task, he does not leave us to do it in the lonely weakness of our own strength.

Moreover, God is not silent, and ever and again, when the strain of life is too much for us, and the effort of his way is beyond our human resources, if we listen we will hear him speak, and we will go on with his strength surging through our frame. Our trouble is not that God does not speak, but that we do not listen.

Again, Jesus claimed that, when he was lifted up, he would draw all men and women to him. Some take this to refer to the Ascension and think it means that when Jesus was exalted in his risen power, he would draw all men and women to him. But that is far from the truth. Jesus was referring to his Cross – and the people knew it. And once again, – inevitably – they – were moved to incredulous astonishment.

How could anyone possibly connect the Son of Man and a cross? Was not the Son of Man the invincible leader at the head of the irresistible armies of heaven? Was not his Kingdom to last for ever? “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his Kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7: 14). Was it not said of the prince of the golden age: “David my servant shall be their prince for ever?” (Ezekiel 37: 25).

Furthermore, had Isaiah not said of the ruler of the new world: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end”? (Isaiah 9:7). Did the Psalmist not sing of this endless Kingdom” “I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your thrones for all generations” (Psalm 89: 4).

The Cross and Lesson of History

The truth of the matter is that the Jews connected the Son of Man with the everlasting kingdom, and here was he, who claimed to be the Son of Man, talking about being lifted up upon a cross. Who was this Son of Man, whose kingdom was to end before it had begun? This was the puzzle, the presence, ministry, teaching and life of Jesus had confronted the people with.

The lesson of history is that Jesus was right. It was on the magnet of the Cross that he pinned his hopes; and he was right because love will live long after might is dead. Jericho, Nineveh and Tyre are only names now, but Christ lives on. The empires founded on force have vanished, leaving only a memory, which with the years becomes ever fainter. But the “empire” of Christ, founded upon a Cross, each year extends its sway.

In Shaw’s play, when Joan of Arc knows that she has been betrayed to the stake by the leaders of her own people, she turns to them and says: “I will go out to the common people, and let the love in their eyes comfort me for the hate in yours. You will all be glad to see me burnt; but if I go through the fire, I shall go through it to their hearts for ever and ever.”

That is a parable of what happened to Jesus. His death upon the Cross made him pass through men’s hearts for ever and ever. The conquering Messiah of the Jews is a figure about whom scholars write their books; but the Prince of Love on the Cross is a king who has his throne for ever in the hearts of men and women. “The only secure foundation for a kingdom is sacrificial love.”

Implications for Us Today

Our choice of this passage from John’s Gospel for our Easter reflection, is informed by the present critical and uninspiring situation of things in our society or nation, especially, the turn of events in recent times. These include, bad governance, lopsided government, discrimination based on race, ethnic or religious differences, etc. There are also the present general state of insecurity of lives and property in the land, political instability, massive rigging and manipulation of national elections, corruption, economic crisis, state-sponsored violence, religious bigotry, ethnic-cleansing, ethnic-profiling, military and police brutality, as well as religious violence and terrorism, etc. In short, the state of hopelessness and despair many of our fellow citizens found themselves in our society and country today. This has made many people to begin to lose faith both in God and man.

‘Where is God in all these? Where is God when all these evil things are happening in our land and lives?” These questions have confronted many people of good conscience as we all watch events nowadays deteriorate everyday nowadays. It is as if evil has taken upper hands in directing the affairs of the land. God forbid!

The tension, violence, insecurity of lives and property; in fact, a clear sense of hopelessness pervading our society and country today, leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, it is under this situation and atmosphere that Christians celebrate the Death, Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ this year!

The desperation, humiliation, abandonment, and hopelessness of most of our fellow citizens living at home and abroad, orchestrated by the failed leadership in our home country, for example, is an open wound to the conscience of the world. In particular, the inhuman treatment of our citizens living in foreign lands, and the government’s insensitivity to their plights, should awaken the conscience of the world. The inhuman treatment and experience of our people, home and abroad, in general, and the plights of the so-called illegal immigrants in Europe, Japan, India, China, Malaysia, Arab countries, etc., is a crime against humanity that cries out to the highest heavens.

The situation of discrimination, and of bad governance, and hardship that are forcing many young people from the continent of Africa to risk their lives, traversing the Sahara Deserts on foot, and crossing the Mediterranean Sea with balloon ships, under dangerous circumstances, just to escape the tyranny, oppression in their home country. This alone, is enough to tell the world that all is not well with most countries in our continent. In that regard, it suffices to add, that what we are experiencing today in an African nation-state, for example, like Nigeria, my home country, is a world tragedy of the highest order, sufficient and enough, to force even the bravest warrior to throw in the towel. God forbid!

The sufferings of the citizens, for example, whether in their homeland or those living in foreign lands today, is in actually fact, a typical example of the modern day “crucifixion” of Jesus Christ in his poor African people. Today, anybody who knows what is happening in my own country, Nigeria, for example, and voices them out ends up been witched-haunted and humiliated by the government of the day, through fabricated charges and use of the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC), secret police – Department of State Services (DSS). This includes also the use of the Police and the Army brutality and recklessness against the individual. Any dissenting voice is, immediately declared an enemy of the state. No more tolerance of the opposition opinion. The media has been silenced long time ago, placed under government’s constant harassment and intimidation. Independent-minded thinkers, intellectuals, activists and uncompromising journalists being hounded and harassed every day. There is no more freedom of expression and of major public gathering and protest against the excesses of the government of the day.

It is now hard to know who is telling the truth again in a country like Nigeria, among government officials, politicians and most of the elites. Because even the government itself has its own sponsored media spies – men and women who post fake news on a daily basis, and carry out divisive and destructive propaganda of calumny, slander, character-assassination and violence on whomever is perceived as being against the government policies or corruption going on in high places. Thus, under such a situation, no one in his right senses would convince us that all is well with such a country like Nigeria today. “The Devil is hanging on the Cross”, in that country today. In this case, what should be the way-out?

What would be the message and meaning of this year’s Easter celebration for a people living under bad government, tyranny and oppression as we have it today in my home country, Nigeria, and in many other African countries with similar story, as well as elsewhere in the world? This is the crux of the matter!

The Way Out: Lessons from the Gospel of John (12: 27-34)

As I reflect on this disturbing situation – the tensions and crosses of our day, it became clearer to me that the best thing to do is to face the fact and do the needful.

In the passage of John’s Gospel (John 12: 27-34), which we chose for our reflection this Easter, John tells us that in each station of Jesus’ earthly life, the mission His Father gave him was always present. But in each of those moments, Jesus was confronted with the weight of the passion awaiting him on the Cross. Through his identification with the Father and the mission for which he was born in human flesh in the world, Jesus was able, however, to triumph over the crucibles of suffering and human wickedness visited upon him as he carried out his Father’s will.

This is one of the greatest lessons of Easter message: the legacy of how to manage tensions in our lives and society, especially at a time like ours today, when everything seems to be losing focus and hope in the society. It is when in such situation of hopelessness and despair that we must not fail to hold firm to our faith in the Risen Christ, by looking steadfastly at him on the cross, that is, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. In him is our hope, triumph and resurrection.

In Jesus Christ, the dominion men exercise over their fellow men came down crawling, when God the Father vindicated and liberated his Only Begotten Son, wicked men had subjected to all kinds of inhuman treatment and suffering. Thus, in the same way God’s dominion triumphed over men’s, so will the dominion of men over their fellow men fall down before that of God, who raised Jesus Christ from death.

At this time of tensions and anxiety, when many people, families, communities and nations are living under critical situations between despair and hopelessness, but also and above all, of victory and triumph, I think that this passage of John’s Gospel has a very important lesson for us all this Easter.

Wishing all, a Blessed and Glorious Easter Celebrations! Happy Easter!