The Resurrection of Jesus is, for the Christian, the essential key for understanding just about everything, not only specifically "religious" matters. The Easter event announces that death and all the ways of death have been defeated.
Jesus took death into the tomb. He was raised to life, and so death's grip on the world has been broken.
Backing up, we must ask what it is that went so wretchedly wrong that the crowds who joyously welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, laying before him branches and their cloaks, would several days later cry out, "crucify Him."
Why do we call that day "Good" Friday?
Messianic expectations were in the air as they had periodically been through the ages, but each generation defined their hope in pragmatic, nationalistic terms, usually as the overthrow of whatever was then their oppressive burden.
Perhaps Jesus was the one who would cast that off and usher in the new era, they thought. But when he acted in accordance with the Father's vision rather than the crowds', he became vulnerable to the treacherous machinations of those for whom he was an inconvenience.
The high priest Caiaphas and certain other religious leaders, who exploited religion as a power over people, were offended by Jesus, who presented authentic Jewish faith as conversion from religious formalism to living the values he proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount. The local Roman authorities, insecure in their roles as puppet dictators, regarded Jesus as one who put at risk their fragile relationship with Rome. It was agreed, Jesus had to be removed if the status quo was to be maintained.
Collusion between church and state were joined. It was the few, not the Jewish people as a whole, who brought about the horrors of Calvary; but by alliances with darkness could not destroy the one who is Light and Life.
Martha, the dear friend of Jesus, approaching the tomb, was startled and confused to discover there not a corpse but the risen Jesus who spoke to her gentle words of peace, consolation and instruction. Two thousand years later the Christian community continues to explore the depths of this singular event that divides history into "before" and "after." The Resurrection changes forever the way we live in this world.
Jesus, wrongly accused and condemned, nevertheless instructed his disciples to forgive not just seven times but 70 times seven times. For him, accommodation to hunger, illness, poverty, greed, violence and exclusion was reprehensible for such acceptance gave honor to the deadliness of Satan's kingdom.
He redefined the concept of "neighbor," insisting that everyone is our neighbor, especially those most in need, the point not to be missed in his dining with quisling tax collectors, healing the son of an occupying Roman military officer and lauding a despised Samaritan as "good."
To the end he looked straight into the face of death, even in agony speaking words of tenderness, consolation, mercy and hope. He was life, written in large letters. Death could not claim him. On Easter morn death died.
Easter calls us who are Christians to be lifelong pilgrims by moving beyond the poverty of a "God and I" religion to an expansive, creative, responsible embrace of all God's people and all God's world.
We live the message of Jesus authentically when we stretch narrow concepts, such as "saving my soul" and "my going to heaven," to instead understand that we are responsible to one another in saving "our" souls. Right now we pass over from death to life when we live for one another as did Jesus, and not even our certain death will conquer God's life in us.
To the women looking into the empty tomb the angel said, "Why do you search for the Living One among the dead? He is not here: he has been raised up."
This is the lens through which we Christians understand just about everything. Belief in Jesus risen plunges us into the marvelous mystery of the one who is Life eternal.
WILBUR DAVIS is the monsignor at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach.