Greetings, SBT Readers!
In recent days, I have found myself wondering how heinous war crimes and human suffering in general can co-exist with the Resurrection. We Christians preach the Triumph of the Cross over sin and death, but sin and death seem to be at pandemic proportions, just like COVID. Wherever we look, there is agony -- whether human or environmental. No being is exempt and the pollution of air, earth and water has brought us to the edge of global catastrophe. So where is the Good News?
Jesus' words to Pilate --"My kingdom is not of this world"-- help me shift my perspective. Jesus' Passion, Death and Resurrection have not brought an end to famine, warfare, disease or natural disasters; in fact, life today is even more unpredictable and risky than it was 2,000 years ago. Rather, as St. Paul points out in Romans 6:5-6, the new life we are called to live involves dying to the old, sinful self through the power of the Risen Christ:
"For if we have grown into union with him
through a death like his, we shall also be
united with him in the resurrection. We know
that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin."
"Death has lost its sting" not because Death no longer exists, but because it no longer has the final word, whether in this life or the next. As "redeemed" spiritual beings, we can continue to grow and evolve in holiness -- or "wholeness" -- no matter our circumstances. Leaving behind our ego needs and all the baggage we have accumulated over the years, we can say "AMEN!" to the path of transformation, while rejecting all that is soul-destroying. This is why our baptismal promises include renouncing "Satan and all his works and empty promises." Easter, then, commemorates not just the rolling away of the entrance stone to an empty tomb, but the invitation to each of us to step out of the tombs that confine us so as to embrace new life in Christ Jesus -- the life of the Spirit. And if we accept this amazing gift, then the physical universe will indeed be transformed because we will finally learn to see as God sees and love as God loves.
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the entrance. So she ran to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, saying, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple set out for the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first; bending down, he saw the burial cloths, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
In T.S. Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, the poor women of Canterbury describe their preference for "Living and partly living." They are content to live quietly, without any drama, surviving the ups and downs of life, carrying on with their daily routines, indulging in gossip, avoiding any "strain on the brain."
The phrase, "Living and partly living" sums up the kind of life people settle for when they simply exist and have no sense of purpose. Like the women of Canterbury, many keep the feasts, hear the masses, have various scandals, are afflicted with taxes, witness births, deaths and marriages -- and "do not wish anything to happen." To use another Eliot line, they do not "dare disturb the universe." On the contrary, "In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo." (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock). In other words, they make small talk but never ask "overwhelming questions."
In living, dying and rising, Jesus did indeed "disturb the universe." From the moment of his conception to his bursting forth from the tomb, Jesus challenged the status quo. We learn in the Infancy narratives that all Jerusalem was disturbed by his birth, and we see a similar disturbance following his entry into Jerusalem before the Passion. Those who held political or religious power saw him as a threat to their dominion precisely because he preached fulness of life, demonstrating this through his actions. His teachings -- especially the parables and Beatitudes-- turned upside down people's expectations, puncturing egos and critiquing the values of his day. At times, he asked questions others couldn't answer and while at others, he answered questions that terrified his interrogators. Far from "Living and partly living," Jesus illumined what it means to be "alive in God"; though he was mocked, tortured and crucified, no tomb could contain him. The Resurrection, then, represents the triumph of Life over Death, of passion over mediocrity, of Truth over lies, of compassion over indifference, of love over hatred. "The glory of God is a fully alive human being," wrote
Saint Irenaeus -- and in the Risen Christ we see that glory!
And what about us? Are we "Living and partly living" or are we co-creating the world with God each breath that we breathe, each word that we utter, each decision that we make, each action that we perform? Are we "fully alive" or have we, like the women of Canterbury, become disconnected from meaning, from purpose, and from the desire to transform the world? Have we settled for a life of self-indulgence, oblivious to the suffering around us, or do we share in Christ's Risen life? The choice is ours: To "Live and partly live" or to become a new creation in Christ Jesus.