Documents Homily of Cardinal Ratzinger, Wigratzbad, 15 April 1990
Dear confreres in the priestly service,
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it” (Psalm 117:24). These radiant words of Easter, with which the Church responds today to the message of the Resurrection, are taken from an Old Testament liturgy of thanks, which was celebrated at the temple gate. The words have been preserved for us in a psalm, one which is altogether flooded with light by the mystery of Christ. It is the psalm from which the Benedictus and the Hosanna are taken as well; moreover, the text about the “stone which the builders rejected” which has “become the cornerstone” is taken from it, too. But the special thing about this Psalm is that the deliverance of one unknown person who has risen up again from death to life has pushed open the gates of salvation anew for the people. Thus does the deliverance of the one become the liturgy of thanks for all, the new beginning, the new gathering together of God’s people. Within the Old Testament, the question of who this one is remains unanswerable. Only from the Lord, from Jesus Christ, does the entire Psalm gain its logic, its distinct meaning. He it is who in fact has gone down into the night of death, who had been surrounded and crushed by all the torments of sin and death. He it is who, rising from the dead, pushed open the gates of salvation and invites us now to enter in through them and to give thanks with Him. He is the new day, which God has made for us—He Himself, in person. Through Him, God’s day shines into the night of this world. Easter Sunday and every Sunday is the actualization of this day; it is an encounter with the living Risen One, Who, as the Day of God, enters into our midst and gathers us together.
But now let us consider how the Evangelist, whose message we have just heard, portrays the dawning, the emergence, of this day (Mark 16:1–7). There are the women, who go to the tomb: the only ones who are capable of taking the risk of fidelity beyond death. These are the simple and humble souls who have no name to defend, no career to aspire to, no property to protect, and who, for this reason, have the courageous spirit of love to go yet once more to the disgraced and now defeated One, to perform for Him the final service of love. In the haste of the day of preparation, with the coming of the feast day, they had been able to attend only to the first and most urgent parts of the burial and were not permitted to complete their rites, which only now did they wish to fulfill: the lamentation for the dead, which could not be intoned on the feast day, and which now, as a loving escort, was to carry Him into the unknown and protect Him, as the power of goodness; and the anointing, too, which, like a futile gesture of love, would like to bestow immortality, for anointing, indeed, aims at preservation from death, preservation from decay. It should like, with all the helplessness of love, to keep the dead man alive, but cannot. Thus did the women come, in order to show Him enduring love once more, and to bid Him farewell as He entered that place from which there is no return, the night of death, from which no one ever comes back.
But as they arrive, they find that another, a different and stronger love has anointed Him—that in Him, the words of the Psalm have come true: “I suffer not My faithful one to see corruption” (Psalm 15:10). Since He Himself stands within the trinitarian circle of love, He was anointed with the eternal love, and thus could not remain in death. For this love alone is the power which is life and which bestows life into eternity. So in Him, also, is that other saying of the Psalm proven true, the words which the Church still today places in the Mass as the Entrance Antiphon: “Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum—I have risen, and I am still with you. You have rested Your hand upon me; You know when I sit and when I stand” (Psalm 138:18, 5, 1–2). In the Old Testament, this is the prayer of a half-frightened, half-gladdened supplicant, to whom, in his struggle with God, it becomes clear that nowhere could he escape God’s nearness. Were he to rise beyond the waters above the earth or sink into the nether world, when he thought that he had finally gotten away from God, then, more than ever, would he stand before the face of God, who is all-encompassing and nowhere to be escaped.
What remained half-obscure there—half fear, half joy—has now, in the great grace of divine love, been fulfilled definitively, for Jesus was able to do the impossible: He has reached out to all the ends of the earth with His love. He has gone down into the realm of death. And because He Himself is the Son, God’s love went down with Him and is omnipresent. Therefore, He, precisely in the act of descending and as the One descending, is the One who rises, who is risen, and who can now say, “Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum”—I am risen, and I am still and forever with you.
Now He speaks the words of this psalm in two directions. On the one hand, He says them to the Father: “I am risen; You are always with me, as I am always with you, and now I have brought human nature, the essence of man, into the eternal love, so that it, through Me, is always with You.” But that, which is said to the Father, He says likewise to us: “I am risen and am now with you always.” To each one of us He says it. There is no night in which I am not with you. If you are fearful, or God seems far away, I am there with you. Be comforted: I am risen and am always and forever with you. It seems to me that we ought to let these great words of the liturgy, which Christ has taken from the premonitions and hopes of the Old Testament and transformed into His Easter words, penetrate deep into our hearts, and, whatever happens, know that He says them to each one of us, quite personally. Yes, “I am risen, and I am with you always,” wherever your ways may take you.
The women, as we heard, had not been able to complete their burial rites on the day of preparation, as the feast day overtook them. But there were others, who were concerned that the burial be definitive, and that this Jesus be gone forever, never to return: His enemies! And so, the Jews and pagans together saw to it that the stone before the tomb be firm, immovable, and sealed. Christ was to be consigned by this impenetrable stone forever to the past, so that He could never return.
And the same thing happens still, and in every age. Marxism wanted to set up the stone of so-called scientific materialism against Christ and make it His tomb. This stone of empirical science was to bury forever the life-bestowing spirit of the Risen One, so that He should belong to the past and should no longer disturb in a Babylonian dream self-made mankind. But the liberalism and the materialism (for all practical purposes) of the Western world do the same thing. With all manner of scientific apparent “proofs”—with the laws of nature, which, as they say, allow no such thing as a resurrection—they too wanted to seal the entrance, so that this stone be not moved, so that there be no returning from beyond it, so that Christ, by the power of our cognition, would be definitively banished and shut up in the past, no more to “disturb” us. But the power of God is mightier than all the stones in the world. The Spirit of God has torn away the stone of all these powers. Christ is risen, and the stone has become the gate through which God enters into the world and through which we gaze out at Him—the gate at which we can now celebrate a true “gate liturgy”, a liturgy of gratitude and joy. The gate of the Resurrection, though, is present in the Eucharist, is constantly present in the midst of this world in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is open onto God. For what took place once is effective forever. The walls of death, the powers of death are broken asunder. Christ enters in, and we may enter with Him in Holy Communion into His world, into the world of eternal love, which has overcome death.
Again and again He shows us palpably that He, the life-bestowing spirit, is mightier than all the powers of this world. There was Marxism, with all of its fearful might, this scientifically created power to control people and make any spiritual movement on their part impossible: with the whole might of its armies, bristling with weapons, its police force, its economic and world power—the unmoveable stone, as it were. But Christ has torn it away. God’s divisions, that is to say, the inconspicuous host of those who, for faith’s sake, suffer and love, were stronger than the military divisions with all the fearful weapons of this world. Yes, Christ has shown it to us anew: I am risen and am stronger than all the powers of this world! No stone, no matter where it come from or how firmly it be sealed, can stand against Me.
Finally, a third point: The women come to the tomb; they find it empty, but they do not encounter the Risen One Himself. Rather, a messenger is there, an angel of God, who says to them, “He is risen; He is not here.” This angel is the precursor of the evangelists, the apostles; he is the precursor of the priests and bishops of the Church, to whom the task is constantly assigned to stand before the torn-away stone and interpret and proclaim it: He is risen. He is risen and not here in the world of death. He goes before you. And whoever seeks Him here, in the world of death, finds Him not. Whoever wants, as it were, to take Him in his hand and analyze Him, and comprehend Him by demonstrations, as some scientific methods of Scripture interpretation seek to do, banishes Him into the world of death, and wants to find Him among the dead, which can be dissected and placed under a microscope—and there, of course, they cannot discover Him. For the Lord is not dead, but rather, as Paul says, a life-giving spirit (I Corinthians 15:45). He is the Risen One, who has brought the flesh into the power of the living God, of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, He is no dead object, but is the living movement of life itself, and we can encounter Him only by letting ourselves be led and moved by Him. We can only meet Him if we follow after Him. “He is not here. He goes before you into Galilee” (Mark 16:6f). Only in following do we see Him. Only if we accompany Him does He become visible and palpable to us.
Gregory of Nyssa once expressed this wonderfully. He considers that mysterious Old Testament passage, where Moses says to God, “I would like to see You.” And God answers him, “My face no mortal can see. But you can see My back.” (Exodus 33:18–23) Now Gregory of Nyssa asks what this might mean, and answers, “But he who follows sees the back of the one he follows...to follow God where He leads is to see God.” To see the back of God means nothing other than to follow after Christ. We see the mystery of God inasmuch as we obey Him and walk obediently behind Him, and thus with Him (The Ascent of Moses, PG 44, 408D).
But where to? First of all: He goes ahead into Galilee. After the feast days in Jerusalem He goes back to His world, and that means: we go after Him, inasmuch as we go into our world and there bear witness to Him. We ourselves can preserve our faith only when we give it to others. Only in giving do we receive Him. For only thus are we followers.
There is a second point which is contained in all this, something which Paul says in his letter to the Colossians in the epistle of the Easter Vigil: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1f). To follow after the Risen One means to rise. Following after Christ does not consist merely in some sort of moral programme. Following after Christ means to go after Him, the Risen One, into the common life the triune God. And that, it is true, no man can do of himself. For neither the strength of our movements nor our self-made wings will reach so far. But we can rise in this way if we share in the life of Christ’s living body, the Church, which, as His body, is constantly in the act of rising. We can do it if we allow ourselves to be encompassed and borne along by His Body in the community of the sacraments, in the community of the Holy Eucharist. Following Him means, above all, a communion of faith and life and love with the living Church, with the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
We rise as a result of bringing this movement into ordinary life—that we not allow our gaze to be captivated by everyday things, but rather emerge above them, daring to go beyond the horizontal to the vertical movement which brings us to the living God, to the Risen One. In this way, we force the world open anew, so that the gate which He has opened is made visible, so that Heaven shines into the world. And only in this way can the world be inhabitable and human: by becoming more than human, by opening itself to the divine, to the grace of the Risen One.
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.” We wish, in this hour, to give thanks to the Lord for the grace of His light, for the day of His Resurrection. And we want to ask Him that the joy of the Resurrection, the light of this new day, accompany us continually, that we may learn to walk after Him and so become able to see. Amen.