Easter (April 1, 2018)
Easter is Jesus the Christ’s finest hour. It is, therefore, his follower’s’ finest hour. “Finest hour” is a phrase made famous by Winston Churchill to describe Britain’s survival of the siege bombing of London and other English cities in 1940. Churchill wrote, “Should the British Empire last a thousand years, it will still be said this was their finest hour.”
The church has celebrated the resurrection of Jesus as its finest hour for over two thousand years. This is our proclamation every time we come together on the first day of the week, made holy by this singular, triumph-ant event.
Unlike Britain, Easter has not become the church’s finest hour because of us humans; it has become our finest hour because of Jesus and our father. It was the father’s will to teach us the unlimited nature of divine love through his son’s teaching us the lesson of listening to our father and himself. It took a horrific event like the crucifixion to get and fasten our attention, to enable us to see beyond our selfishness the selfless love of Jesus.
The resurrection has meaning only in the light of Jesus’ unspeakable suffering and death. Easter raises our spirits only after we allow the passion of Jesus on Good Friday to plunge our spirits as we see the love that enabled Jesus to suffer so terribly.
Many who cheered him at his entry into Jerusalem early in the week jeered him on Good Friday. This is the polarity we find so often in human experience and especially in Holy Week.
Besides the polarity we experience, there is also paradox. Polarity expresses difference and distance; paradox expresses the combining of contradictory ideas [or things] into a meaningful whole. The richness of paradox is lost on the poorly educated and the immature – yet another reason for weekly mass and continuing, catholic adult education. Those who stop with high school education of religion try to battle the experiences of adulthood with the tools of elementary or adolescent education, and in adulthood, unfortunately, view Christianity through the lens of immaturity. Many settle for Easter outfits and cute, yellow chicks and Easter candy for their own children. Christianity is an adult religion and spirituality.
Jesus has profound paradoxes in his teaching: we gain life by losing life; we gain love when we give love. His Easter paradox involves death and life. Death gives life its meaning. Remove one and we lose both. We want the crown of life, but we do not want the cross. We hear the promise of eternal life and have a tendency not to take up our cross and follow him. For Jesus, both are necessary. We want Easter Sundays in life without Good Fridays.
Jesus calls us to life, but surely does not want us to choose the cross in order to get the crown. That is not love; that is a deal – something for something. Jesus accepted the cross out of love for his father and for us. Jesus was not “dealing;” he was giving us example of how to live life.
In Jesus’ mind he did not die to be raised to eternal life (he already had that). He died to fulfill his father’s will and proclaim the message of love regardless of the violent reaction to hm. He dearly suffered for his efforts. God raised us to the possibility of joining us to them in eternal life.
Were we to be asked what was our finest hour, we might think of some “big win” in our lives. We would be surprised, as were the sheep, Jesus’ answer to the question. Our finest hour may have been at a most difficult or painful time when we gave the gift of ourselves to someone who needed help, peace, love.
In Matthew’s gospel, the people Jesus called “sheep”- as in separating the “sheep and goats” - asked Jesus: “when did we feed you, clothe you, visit you?” Jesus replied that what they had done for the least of their brothers, they had done for him. The gift of ourselves to others is our Christian vocation. Sometimes we see the difference we make; sometimes, we do not. Love becomes its own reward both here and hereafter.
May the paschal mystery, the paradox, fill your hearts this Easter. May Jesus’ gift of self inspire us all always to Live Jesus more deeply.