March 30, 2024 // Perspective

He Is Truly Risen!

Alleluia! Happy Easter to you!

There is a traditional greeting used by many Christians during the Easter season in which the first person says, “He is risen!” and the other responds, “He is risen indeed, alleluia!” The language echoes the Gospel of Luke (24:33-34), when the two men who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus hurriedly return to Jerusalem to share their experience, and the apostles affirm, “He is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” I’ve always pondered the fact that the return walk to Jerusalem from Emmaus appears to have been much faster than the walk to get there, but that’s a topic for another column.

Easter is such a joyous celebration that it even outlasts the long Lenten period of preparation. The 40 days of Lenten penance is more than counterbalanced by the 50 days of the Easter season, which kicks off with an eight-day octave celebration in which every day is classed with the same solemnity as Easter Sunday. The Friday within the Easter Octave is one of my favorite days of the year, celebrated in my parish as “Meating Friday,” where we have a potluck dinner featuring barbecue meats and all the fixings. The joy of the Resurrection outweighs the normally penitential character of Friday, and I like to joke that “if you don’t eat meat at every meal on Meating Friday, you’re denying the bodily resurrection of the Lord!” I haven’t yet gotten any actual theologians to back me up on this, but it seems like solid reasoning to me.

In 2024, because of a quirk of the liturgical calendar, we will actually observe nine days in a row of solemnities, as we observe the feast of the Annunciation on the first day after the Easter Octave ends (this year, observed on April 8). The Annunciation of the Lord, normally celebrated on March 25, nine months before the Nativity (Christmas), commemorates the beginning of our salvation, as God the Son becomes incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every moment of His life – His conception, His birth in Bethlehem, His childhood in Nazareth, His itinerant preaching throughout Galilee and Judea, to His passion, death, and resurrection – stems from Mary’s response to the Archangel Gabriel: “Let it be done unto me according to your word.”

The nine months Jesus spent in the womb underscores the truth of what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, which says that Jesus was “like us in all things but sin” (cf. Heb 4:15). He, too, began as a single cell, developing through the same stages of growth as all human babies do. As a newborn, He needed to be swaddled, carried, fed, bathed, and changed. He needed lullabies sung to Him, encouragement as He learned to walk, and comfort when He stubbed His toe. How strange to think the Son of God, by whom and for whom all things were created, chose to set aside His own power and enter His own creation, yet Luke affirms that “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51).

The juxtaposition of the Annunciation and the Paschal Triduum is a happy coincidence for us, as we are invited to ponder at the same time the joy of the Incarnation and the reason it happened at all. And this coincidence has long been celebrated in the Christian Church, since at least A.D. 240. But why on March 25, specifically?

In the mid-sixth century, theologian Dionysius Exiguus undertook the project of investigating various dates in sacred Scripture. The Gospel of John (19:14) tells us that Jesus’s passion and death took place on the preparation day for Passover, on the 14th of Nisan on the Jewish calendar. Dionysius calculated that this corresponded to March 25 on the Julian calendar (which predated the Gregorian calendar that we now use). There was a longstanding belief in antiquity that one’s birthday and one’s death would fall on the same day of the year. So, the date of the incarnation of Jesus (the what) and His crucifixion (the why) took place on the same day.

An interesting side note, in his novel, “The Lord of the Rings,” Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien set the destruction of the One Ring of Power and the fall of Sauron as also taking place on March 25. Tolkien, who spoke of his literary work as “sub-creation” (because, unlike God, he did not create his fictional world from absolutely nothing), thus implicitly acknowledged that the incarnation and redemption of Jesus in our real world has a cosmic effect, even in fictional worlds of our own making.

In this Easter season, we are invited to be witnesses to the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Those of us who have been baptized into His death have been given a great gift, one we are called to share with friends and strangers alike. Be not afraid to be bold, and to proclaim to all that you meet: “He is risen! He is truly risen, and has appeared to Simon! Alleluia!”

Ken Hallenius is a syndicated radio host and podcaster living in South Bend.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.