This Sunday, Better Than Christmas: 4 Ways Easter Changes Everything

We love to retell the lessons of Christmas each year: the humility of the newborn king, mighty angels summoning lowly shepherds, a caravan from the East following a star, and heaven announcing peace to earth.

But Easter is a greater feast than Christmas. And even though we may not have Resurrection scenes in our living rooms or decorations transforming our homes, this season changes everything we see, from the inside out.

On the Third Sunday of Easter Year B, the readings show just how immense the consequences of Easter truly are.

First, if Christmas invites us to seek God, at Easter, he finds us.

At Christmas, it takes a leap of imagination to convince ourselves that this newborn baby is truly the Son of God. At Easter, no leap of imagination is necessary.

The disciples saw Jesus touch and inspire people in his public life, only to end by bleeding out on the cross from a hole in his side. Now they have the extraordinary experience of seeing him return to touch and inspire people again — leaving an empty tomb behind him, like a hole in the side of the earth.

The experience was so unexpected and powerful, they were driven to write down the key details of it to share them with as many people as possible. It has been said that the four Gospels can be thought of as accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus with long introductions.

In fact, the witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection are the only reason we believe the Christmas story to start with. These accounts present the apostles as doubters and bumblers who resist and reject the Resurrection until the evidence of their senses force them to believe.

It is almost as if the expectations of history and of eyewitness testimony changed on Easter, too, as Jesus guides his disciples to notice exactly the evidence that would best attest to the truth of what has happened.

First he appeals to their senses, saying “touch me and see,” to show that he has “flesh and bones” and is not a ghost. Next, he appeals to history, showing his pierced hands and feet, to prove that he is the one they saw crucified, and not an imposter. Last, he eats with them, in order, says St. Bede, “that they might not suspect that his appearance was not actual, but only imaginary.”

The Gospel shows their tumult of emotions as the dead Lord whom they abandoned comes back to confront them. They start out “troubled” as “questions arise in their hearts.” Then they are “incredulous for joy” and, in the end, “amazed.”

Second, while Christmas teaches us that suffering follows joy; Easter teaches us that joy follows suffering.

The Christmas story ends ominously, with Simeon’s dark predictions, Herod slaughtering the innocents, and Mary and Joseph fleeing their homeland in terror.

At Easter, Jesus explains all that suffering when “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and says, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.”

With that, Jesus breaks the Hebrew Scriptures wide open. The Jewish people knew that they were God’s Chosen People who would conquer the world one day, despite appearances to the contrary through much of history. But Jesus shows them that this would happen through love and surrender, not power and dominance. Peter learned the lesson well, to judge by his speech to a Jewish audience at the Temple colonnade in the First Reading, from Acts.

Peter starts out by saying “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our Fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.” That puts Jesus, glorified on the cross, in the line of Abraham, whose difficult obedience won God’s promise to bless all nations; Isaac, the sacrificial offering who inherited the promise; and Jacob, who saw that the promise would unite heaven and earth but only through struggle.

Peter ends by saying “God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets; that his Christ would suffer.”

If at Christmas we thought God planned to end suffering on earth in our time, Easter corrects that misunderstanding. He planned to join us in our suffering and transform it.

Third, Christmas promises peace; Easter fulfills the promise.

When Jesus was born, the angels sang “Peace on earth and good will to men,” but the only peace on offer then was the Pax Romana, a peace won by violence and destined to end by violence, the peace of an empire whose strict control sent the Holy Family scrambling across the Holy Land to do Caesar’s will.

At Easter, when Jesus appears as the victim of the Romans who defeated death, he says “Peace be with you” and offers real, lasting peace “that passes all understanding.” He shows that he suffered and died because he knew it would intensify our love for him. And when he returns from the dead, all he wants is to make us love him like he loves us.

Peter receives this message too. He excuses his audience as much as he accuses them when he says, “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did.”

Peter wants to restore his fellow Jews, not destroy them. He tells them where to find true peace: Not by reinforcing their self-will, but by reorienting it toward God. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away,” says Peter.

Repentance, says the Church, is “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.” True repentance is not just sorrow at sin: “it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life.”

St. John says it bluntly in the Second Reading: “My children, I am writing this to you that you may not commit sin.” John says repentance is necessary to be friends with Jesus, because friends are careful not to offend their friends. “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments,” he says, meaning his two great commandments of Jesus: love of God and neighbor.

Repentance brings grace, grace brings reform of life, and reform of life brings peace.

And there is one last difference between the Nativity and the Resurrection — the baby Jesus may attract us, but the Risen Jesus sends us.

At Christmas we watch Emmanuel, God-with-us, joining a human family and live among us as an adorable infant. In Easter, we see a battle-scarred adult challenging his disciples to break out of the comfortable confines of their private rooms and face the wild world.

If Christmas feels like a hug from God, Easter feels like a shove.

Jesus tells his apostles that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, will be preached in his name to all nations.

The first apostles took up that challenge with gusto. Jesus wants us to have the same kind of encounter with him, with the same result.

“It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him,” says the Church.

Here is where Easter and Christmas coincide. The same God of love we worshiped in the manger is available to us today.

Look at the way the Gospel for this Sunday begins:

“The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst.”

The experience these disciples had of seeing Jesus in the Eucharist is the same experience we have today. They responded by rushing to tell others, and when they did, he became present to them all.

That is what Jesus wants from us. Meet him in the communion line. Speak to him in the depths of your heart. Make friends with him. And then bring him with you to whoever you can.

Image: Bethlehem, Catholic Church England and Wales Flickr.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.