On Easter Sunday, we contemplate with wonder the empty tomb, and the circumstances of the Resurrection transport us all the way back to Genesis. That tomb is situated in a garden, just as the history of the human race began in a garden.
Mary Magdalene mistakes Our Risen Lord for the gardener. Adam’s task had been to tend the garden which God entrusted to his care. Where Adam’s disobedience brought expulsion from that first garden, Our Lord defeats Satan on the Cross and, in the garden close by, reverses the consequences of Adam’s rebellion, the most terrible of which is death. All of this makes Christ the New Adam, whose Resurrection marks a New Creation which promises us an eternity infinitely more wonderful than anything to be found in the paradise of Eden.
Sceptics might argue that the academic consensus that the origins of this universe lie in an “explosion” in which space expanded from a single point relegates all belief in a Divine Creator to the status of mythology. The father of the Big Bang theory would disagree. He was a Belgian Catholic priest, Mgr Georges Lemaître. After Mgr Lemaître had presented the theory at a seminar in California in 1933, his friend Albert Einstein is reported to have led a standing ovation and commented that this was the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation for the beginnings of the universe he had ever heard. For Mgr Lemaître, the Big Bang was just one manifestation of God’s creative genius, something that reinforced his Catholic faith.
The Resurrection is infinitely more marvellous even than the Big Bang. The creation of the universe cost God nothing. He could have fashioned a hundred million universes like ours in less than the blink of an eye. The Resurrection, on the other hand, cost God very dearly. In the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity united Himself with our human flesh and entered a world in which He would be vulnerable to the jealousy and political intrigue of fallen human creatures. On Good Friday, we meditate on just what a price God was willing to pay, as we see the King of Creation scourged, mocked and nailed to a Cross. His precious blood was the price of His glorious triumph over sin in the Resurrection.
Einstein was apparently enthralled by Mgr Lemaître’s proposal that the power of that primeval explosion known as Big Bang was still, in the 1930s, transmitting energy through an expanding universe in the form of cosmic rays. Likewise, the Resurrection continues to pulsate its supernatural power to this day. In Holy Week, countless souls are lifted up from the death of sin and restored to the life of the Resurrection in the Sacrament of Penance.
The grace conferred in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony remains live and active throughout the life of a married couple, enabling them to meet the challenges and opportunities that come their way, just as long as they remain tuned in to the Presence of Our Risen Lord in their marriage.
In the Sacrament of the Sick, the souls of the suffering and fearful are raised up and filled with hope in the general resurrection of our bodies that will happen at the end of time. In the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord feeds us with His living Body, making Holy Communion the most perfect encounter with the Resurrection that we can experience on this earth.
Looking at the history of the Church, we see how, when her lustre has been tarnished by the venality and waywardness of her shepherds, faith in the Resurrection has raised up new generations of saints to bring refreshment and renewal to her sacred mission. Of course, the power of the Resurrection is not restricted to the visible confines of the Church and her Sacraments. The hundreds of thousands of baptisms taking place at Easter Vigils around the world this year testify to its potency to raise up new Christians from the mire of unbelief, superstition and false religion, and to incorporate them into Christ’s mystical risen body.
Intriguing and persuasive as it may be, the Big Bang remains a theory. A scientific consensus only holds sway for as long as it remains unchallenged by a more compelling explanation. Even if it stands the test of time, most scientists seem to agree that this universe and time itself will come to an end. The Resurrection, in contrast, is not a theory but a fact. Its effects are in their youth and will endure into eternity.
Fr Julian Large, Cong Orat, is Provost of the London Oratory