Why this joy? It is on this day the voice of God is heard assuring us that the dead can and will rise again, to enter upon a new and never-dying life. Sometimes a little child dies. That only means that the beautiful angel-like spirit which is in each one of us has left this child's body and flown up to God in heaven. It is bitter for us to lose those we love, but they are happy to go to God. We know that this is true, because after Jesus had died on the cross, after His body had been laid in the grave, His spirit came back to His body, to show us that if we are God's children death is nothing to be afraid of. This is the day Jesus came back to tell His dear friends that they must not be sad because He died.
You have just learned from the gospel how soldiers were placed near the grave to guard it, but the second night, towards morning, when it was beginning to get light, there was a noise and a shaking of the ground, and a beautiful angel came down from heaven and rolled the huge rock back from the cave. The soldiers trembled with fear and ran away.
Among the friends who came to visit Jesus at the tomb was Mary Magdalen. She had loved Jesus with all her heart, for He had been very good to her, making her life, which had been sinful and bad, sweet and good. She came to find the grave empty, and leaving the spot with a heavy heart she turned back. On her way out she met a man in the garden. Her eyes were so full of tears that she could not see plainly, and she supposed that He was the gardener. He asked her: "Why weepest thou ?" She answered:
"Sir, if thou hast borne Him away, tell me where thou hast laid Him?" Then the man said, in a voice she knew and loved more than any voice on earth, "Mary !" Who do you think it was ? It was Jesus, and when she heard His voice she turned, and knelt at His feet, crying with great joy, "Master!"
So Jesus came to His disciples, to one by one, or two or three together. And at last they all knew that He was really risen from the dead—that He was alive. And they learned, too, what we must learn and never forget, that as Jesus rose from the dead, so we and all those we love rise also. Sometimes when we go to sleep at night it is dark and stormy and we feel tired and fearsome, but when we wake in the morning the sky is blue, the sun is shining and we are cheerful. Dying is very much like this; falling to sleep here, when our course is run, and we are tired after all our trials and tribulations, and waking in heaven with Jesus.
That is why Jesus came back on that Easter morning after He had died on the cross; to show us that death is nothing to be afraid of, for it means going to be with Him.
When the pagans were leading St. Pionius to the place of martydom, they were surprised to see the joy that lighted up his countenance, and how eagerly he ran towards the place of His death.
"What makes you so happy?" they asked him, "and why do you run forward with so much eagerness to death?" "You are mistaken," answered the martyr, "I am not going to death; I am about to begin a life that will never end." This is how the saints spoke of what the world calls death.
However long or sweet may be the pleasure of the draught of life, and health, and prosperity, all finally come to the one bitter drop at the bottom of the cup. And that is death. The Church, the divinely instituted Guardian of God's word, tells us that Christ has conquered death. All who die shall rise again from the dead, because our Saviour Jesus Christ, first of all, rose from the dead, and promised that the change of a similar resurrection should come upon all mankind. Bitter as death may be, the hope of the resurrection is a complete antidote. A "happy death" is a common saying among Catholics. It is a resurrection to eternal life.
In the life of the holy martyr Pamphilius we read that many pagans who saw the great joy that filled the Christians, when they were condemned to die for Jesus Christ, wondered how they could be so happy. And when they were told that it was because they were so soon to see God in heaven and to enjoy the happiness God had prepared for them, they also wished to become Christians, that they might share in that happiness.
They had not long to wait for the martyr's crown. For the Prefect of Cesarea, hearing of what had taken place, sent soldiers to bring them before him. One of the first questions he put to them was: "What country do you belong to ?" "Our country is heaven," was the answer; "it is there where our God and our Saviour dwells. After He had suffered and died, and rose again from the dead, He went up to heaven to prepare a place for us. So heaven is our home."
The Prefect was very angry at the tone of confidence in which they said these words and commanded them to suffer the most inhuman tortures.
Children, many Catholics think so much of the world that they seem to forget that the world is not their proper goal. Judging from the lives of some Christians, a person would not think that they ever think of death.
Many years ago there was a certain lord who kept a fool in his palace, as many great men did for their amusement in those days.
Now, this lord had given the fool a staff and charged him to keep it till he met with one that was a greater fool than himself, bidding him, if he met with such a one, to deliver the staff to him. Not many years after, the lord fell sick, and, indeed, was sick unto death.
The fool came to see him, and the sick master told him that he and hast made no orders for thy comfort in a place from which thou wilt never return? Take my staff, for I am not guilty of any such folly as this."
Children, we will ask ourselves, have I a right to participate in the Easter joy of to-day, or am I only making an outside show, while my conscience tells me I am a hypocrite? What kind of a life would I rise to on the day of resurrection if I died' tonight? What would Jesus Christ find in me that looks like Him, and therefore give me a share in His glorious resurrection ? Dear Children, that is what He wants to find in us all. Let us now rise from all that is deadly or corrupt in the life we are leading, and Jesus will be sure to find in us what will entitle us to a resurrection to eternal happiness.
Source: Story Sermonettes for the Children's Mass, Imprimatur 1921