BISHOP SCHARFENBERGER at the March 17 Chrism Mass at Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. See The Evangelist's print edition for more photos.
BISHOP SCHARFENBERGER at the March 17 Chrism Mass at Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. See The Evangelist's print edition for more photos.
The Easter message is much more than a clever spin or even a "faith-take" on the staggering encounters and events of Holy Week. No matter how compelling to their respective constituencies, neither the skeptic-oriented nor the more pandering depictions of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ succeed in doing exactly what they did to the eyewitnesses -- and those who still accept their testimony.

It is one thing to stir up emotions and even to produce a literary or cinematic work worthy of critical acclaim. It is another thing to change lives forever. This is exactly what happens to those who embrace the message.

Whatever may be the particular bias or agenda of those who, in every era, have attempted to analyze, dramatize or science out what "really" happened to Jesus of Nazareth, it is only the personal encounter with Jesus Christ, who has His own reality and enduring presence, that unleashes the full power of a life-transforming message that is undeniably provocative: that the dead and risen Jesus are one and the same.

The whole point of the Gospel narrative and the post-resurrection accounts in Acts and the apostolic letters is not just an historical record of the things that just happened to Jesus and His followers. Rather, they are testimony that personal lives, and even humanity itself, were changed -- and continue to be changed -- because of faith in the Jesus who lived, died and is risen.

The life-changing potential of the message is not more readily accessed by increased exposure to how luridly the lashes on the blooded body or how dazzlingly the rays emitted from the glorified body of Jesus might have impressed. Some of those who had known Jesus of Nazareth actually witnessed His death; others, His appearances after death; and some, both.

But the real story is how the lives of those who put it all together and accepted the whole message would be changed forever.

St Paul, one of the earliest Christian witnesses to comprehend the full meaning of Easter, puts it this way: "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:16-18).

Paul understands what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ implies not only for believers, but for all humanity. It is a divine guarantee: that God exists, is good and is a God of mercy, and also that we encounter that mercy firsthand in the person of Jesus Christ.

As theologian Rev. Edward Schillebeeckx puts it, Christ is the sacrament of the encounter with God.

The Good News of Easter is that our human life does not end in death -- at least it doesn't have to. What's more, this all comes from God's mercy and compassion that streams from the cross of Christ, which has enough power in it to take away the sins of the whole world from all time and for all time.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ challenges and changes humanity itself. It confronts head-on the mysteries of evil, sin and death -- realities that have plagued and vexed humanity and human society from its origins. The life of each human person, in other words, is no longer limited to the span of his or her years on Earth.

The whole point is that what we celebrate at Easter is not just the bad and good things that happened to Jesus Christ, but what His death and resurrection means for each and every one of us.

The resurrection is not only an affirmation of His divinity, but of our human dignity, as well. That Jesus rose in His body -- a glorified body that was somehow changed, yet recognizably the same body which had been crucified -- is clear testimony that human beings, incarnate spirits that we are, are not some kind of angelic figures "imprisoned" in a body. Our full humanity is not realized when somehow the "soul" is released (or "shuffled off" from this "mortal coil," as Hamlet entertained in his famous soliloquy), but in its full and eternal state conformed to that of the risen Christ.

This is why our faith impels us to do the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Heaven begins on earth in living the life of the Beatitudes. Here and now, we are invited and enabled to live on earth the life we long to live in heaven. This is the kind of living that we expect to see in the saints and what God expects to accomplish in us, His saints in training, who look to the cross for our salvation, our path to sanctity.

"Jesus said to them..., 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23). Now, that's the Bible talking! Well, not just the Bible, but the Holy Spirit, who wrote the Bible through the inspired authors.

Jesus is not leaving us on our own. He offers us His presence in the Scriptures and the sacramental life of the Church, especially the holy Eucharist. Should we lose ourselves, finding ourselves entangled in sinful ways, we have a shepherd who seeks us out and carries us home.

This is the Easter joy that we celebrate. We are never alone. God is with us here and for always. And God-with-us has a name: Jesus, yesterday, today and forever! My prayer is that, in believing, you will know that peace which surpasses all understanding and which the world cannot give and that, in knowing it -- in knowing Him -- you will announce the message in word and work to everyone who seeks to discover who they really are: children of God, created in love and for love forever.

(Follow the Bishop at and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)