By Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, Bishop of Ekwulobia
Stay with us. It is Nearly Evening (Lk 24:29)
My dear Brothers and Sisters.
One year has rolled by since Easter 2022 when we re-enacted the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. A lot has happened since then! For many in our own locality, the “alleluia” of Easter is first for a happy survival through the power of the risen Lord. As individuals and as Nigerians, we are going through the valley of darkness and are surviving a lot that threaten life – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. So far, we have survived the UGM – the infamous “Unknown Gun Men,” – the herdsmen, and other criminal elements who terrorize our society. We are going through untold hardship on account of many factors – galloping inflation, unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure, etc. The badly implemented cash redesign policy worsened the situation so much so that many waste time and energy to get a paltry sum in the bank or wait interminably in the market for their payment through electronic cash transfer to be confirmed as received, before they could leave with the items bought. This has created the situation of POS (Point of Sale) operators exchanging physical cash for electronic cash at a higher rate to compensate for their effort at the banks to obtain the cash. The height of it was the 2023 General Election. People hoped and worked hard to make it a turning point for a better Nigeria. Through criminal negligence, if not willful collusion of a few, this key element in a democracy was turned into a dirty joke that sullied the high hopes people had.
It is by these “rivers of Babylon,” (Ps 137:1-3) that we are required to sing the Easter ‘alleluia’ of joy. Can we do this? Yes! We must, not in spite of the dark situation but precisely because of it. A torchlight shines more brightly in a pitch dark night. Easter marks Christ’s victory over death and darkness. If we died with him, we shall rise with him (Rom 6:8). So, my dear Brothers and Sisters, I say to you, happy Easter! Shout ‘alleluia!’ The Lord is risen, indeed. He is our hope and our song! He is our pledge that the good will eventually triumph. Jesus, through the power of the Father, was restored to life after those in power at the time conspired against the Lord and his anointed. In the same way, a new Nigeria shall rise and shine in Easter glory through the power of God active in our land – a new Nigeria that approximates our dream of a society where the citizenry live decently; a new Nigeria where justice shall flow like water and righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24).
Easter: Manifestation of God’s Recreative Power
Easter is a manifestation of God’s recreative power. Lazarus was raised to life (Jn 11:1-44). But he died again. Jesus was raised to life never to die again. Resuscitation is not the same thing as resurrection. Jesus worked that sign to reveal himself as the resurrection and life (Jn 11:25). The resuscitation of Lazarus provided the background for his resurrection by the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing that a dead man, Lazarus, was raised to life. He, however, died again. More amazing though, is that another man, the son of God, died and was raised to life, never to die again. He lives forever! Death has no power over him! He lives in glory with a resurrected body, qualitatively different from human bodies that are bound in space and time. This is the power of the resurrection; a power that unleashes capabilities that transcend natural capacities. That is why the wonder of creation is surpassed only by the greater wonder of God’s recreation through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Easter event is a pledge that through divine intervention, life can come forth from death, freshness from decay, joy from sorrow, and courage from despair. Indeed, light dispels darkness. But there has to be a lamb of sacrifice. At Easter, we celebrate that Jesus our paschal lamb has been raised. In imitation of him, we are called upon to brace up and face the darkness and brokenness in our lives and in the world with courage and trust in the abiding presence of God even when he seems to be far away and silent. Easter is a call to remain steadfast in doing good, ever hopeful that the good will triumph through the power of the One who is Goodness.
Stay with us. It is Nearly Evening
May you ponder with me on the question: what if the two disciples on the way to Emmaus did not invite Jesus to spend the night with them? Let us remember that these disciples were so disappointed that they were cynical in their first response to the stranger: “you must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days” (Lk 24:18). Feigning ignorance, the stranger asked, “what things?” They launched into a tale of woes. “Our hope” they said, “had been that he would be the one to set Israel free” (Lk 24:21). This hope was shot down, even before take-off. He was killed. His followers were disappointed and disillusioned. The stranger then took over and explained to them the Scriptures. This was, of course, what Jesus had been explaining to them. But they heard but never understood him. Maybe, they even listened to the stranger out of courtesy, till they reached their destination. But then, they did something commendable. They invited him in to stay with them because it was evening. They did not know who he was yet. This is why I want us to ponder: what if, in their disappointment, they failed to show concern to this stranger who had been on the road with them? What if they had only waved him off with a goodbye muttered under their breath, without any thought about his safety? Thank God, they did the right thing.
Even if, they did not show concern for Jesus who is the stranger, this would not have affected the resurrection. But the disciples would have missed a wonderful opportunity to experience the energizing and recreative power of the resurrection. Because they invited him in, they had the opportunity of eating supper with him. It was in that context, that they recognized him in the breaking of bread. There and then, their despondence vanished. They got in touch with themselves and recognized that their hearts were burning as he talked to them on the way. It is as if they received fresh pairs of eyes and saw the events of the last few days in Jerusalem differently. Filled with fresh energy and courage, they walked back to Jerusalem that night. All these happened because they dared to pay attention to the other and spared some thoughts about him and his welfare. They showed concern.
Conclusion: “See I am Doing a New Thing… Can You See it?” (Is 43:19)
Easter is the handiwork of God. The one, unrepeatable and irreplaceable sacrifice for our salvation has been made by Jesus Christ. We are invited to come and see what the Lord has done. Responding positively to the invitation is our contribution. Our response is of consequence. Let us remember the parable of the guests who failed to attend the wedding feast in the Gospel of Matthew (22:14). They felt they had other more important engagements. God continues to invite us, as individuals and as Nigerians, to come and see the new thing, God is doing in our midst. Despite all disappointments, let us not lock ourselves in and become self-centred. Let us, like the two disciples, spare thoughts for strangers, and show care and concern to others. That is one of the ways to encounter the risen Christ in one another. In this way, the new thing that God is doing in our midst, through the power of the resurrection, will bring about renewal and recreation in each of us, in our families, and communities and bring about a new Nigeria through the power of the risen Lord.
Now I say to you again, “Happy Easter! Shout Alleluia! For the Lord is risen!” And I expect a thunderous “Alleluia!” As said already, this is not in spite of the difficult situation we find ourselves in but because of them for we are “triumphantly victorious, by the power of him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). Peace be with you!
✠ Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke
Bishop of Ekwulobia
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Ekwulobia Catholic Diocese – Nigeria.