Greetings, SBT Readers!
With all the mass shootings, heinous murders, hate crimes against Asian Americans, and other societal blots, it is hard to see the transforming power of Easter. If Jesus died for our sins, why, then, is Sin so omnipresent, not just in the United States but also in countries where there is genocide, torture, warfare, governmental corruption, and the suppression of human rights?
What is the meaning of "Redemption" when there is little evidence that human nature has changed for the better since the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus? Theoretically, we can say that "Death has lost its sting," but we live in a culture of death, and Death's sting is no less painful than it was 2,000 years ago.
The belief that we will one day share in Jesus' Resurrection is, of course, the traditional answer to these questions, but I believe there is another answer to consider: How can each of us cultivate an "Easter mindset"? That is, how can we "put on Christ" and respond to life's challenges with faith, hope, joy, forgiveness, and, above all, with Love? Easter is a state of mind as much as it is a great feast. When we return good for evil, love for hatred, compassion for indifference, generosity for selfishness, we have "put on Christ"; when we serve instead of compete, share instead of hoard, understand instead of criticize, cooperate instead of dominate, heal instead of wound -- then we have put on Christ" and entered into his glory!
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, 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.
That Creative Energy, the Force of Life, could not be contained, nor could Love be restrained by walls hewn from rock. The Seed sprung forth, bearing fruit a thousandfold; the Buried Talent increased and multiplied, dumbfounding doubters; the Grain of Yeast exploded with potential -- and the stone rolled back, birthing the Reign of God.
That first Easter, the crucified Jesus of Nazareth emerged from the tomb as the Lord of History, the Cosmic Christ, the Destroyer of Sin, the Slayer of Death. Though sin and suffering still ravage our world, we know that, ultimately, all will be well because Love has triumphed over Evil. The Resurrection, then, is not merely something that "happened to Jesus" but is part of God's plan of salvation -- an event of evolutionary magnitude which initiated the birth of a new world order, even as creation continues to "groan in labor pains" (Rom 8:22).
All this, of course, is familiar Pauline theology but may be of little comfort to those who are gripped by grief or weighed down by disappointment, depression, frustration, or guilt. Nor is it much consolation to those struggling with addictions or quality of life issues. In this time of pandemic, having faith is especially challenging for anyone who has experienced the loss of health, loved ones, and financial security. For some Christians, this year's "Alleluias" ring hollow, while jubilant cries of "He is risen!" fall flat.
What, then, can Easter mean to those who are brokenhearted or despairing? In the first place, we need to see it not as an isolated feast but as part of the Paschal Mystery. Without Jesus' suffering and death, his Resurrection would be unnecessary; conversely, without the Resurrection, life would be absurd. St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is empty, and your faith also is empty…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” ( 1 Cor. 15:14, 17 ). Easter, then, is God's answer to the tragedy of the human condition: yes, there is suffering and death, but there is more and that is life in the Risen Christ. Just as he triumphed over the grave, so we, too, can overcome all that limits us, blocks us, or holds us back from living full, active, faith-filled lives.
Secondly, Easter is not a single day but a season we celebrate for 50 days, culminating in the great feast of Pentecost. Since the beginnings of Christianity, this period of Mystagogy has offered the newly initiated an opportunity to reflect on their experience and to deepen their faith. For the rest of us, it invites us to examine our own faith commitment and to interpret the events of our lives through the lens of our own daily dying and rising. Every Sunday, year-round, is in fact, a celebration of Easter, a chance to rest, reflect, heal and begin anew.
The Paschal Mystery does not end with Jesus rising from the dead any more than it ends with his death on the Cross; it represents the cycle of life, the good times and the bad, those moments of failure and those moments of success, the experience of Light and the experience of darkness... Sometimes, our experience of "the tomb" may be short in duration -- "three days," perhaps. At others, we may linger there for months, even years, even decades, as we await release and healing. Regardless of how long we are entombed, Easter offers us the hope, the promise, and the joy that new life awaits us, both in this world and the next.
He is risen! Alleluia!