Easter is, of course, the celebration of Jesus’ passage from life through death to life and his promise that we shall experience the same transition. That’s why we inscribe on the tombstones something like, “Until We Meet Again.” That would make no sense at all if we were not convinced that our beloved dead continue to live after their biological deaths, and that we will too.
I am grateful to a Maryknoll priest, Father Joseph McCabe, who emailed me from Russia a few years ago with a reminder of what we experienced between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
At the outset, he wrote, we were invited to accompany Jesus in his 40 days in the wilderness for the same purpose of communing more deeply with God. We needed to do that because the busyness and distractions of our daily lives easily make us forget that God is constantly present in and with us. We were encouraged to face up to the remnants of bad habits, especially with regard to our treatment of others. We were urged to resolve again and more firmly to imitate Jesus’ gentleness, forgiveness, patience, and compassion.
In the second week, we heard in the Scripture excerpts that we are wildly loved sons and daughters – something that so many of us still don’t really believe. But the Scriptures insisted that it is true: we are loved unconditionally, despite what we’ve done or didn’t do. Move on, we were urged, feeding on the strength that comes from knowing we are loved by our Creator, no matter what.
The third week of Lent challenged us with the problem of maintaining control over our anger and devoting all our energy to doing what is right in every situation, guided by our own well-formed consciences. Live thoughtfully, we were counseled, because each moment here on earth is precious and unrepeatable.
A week later, we heard about God’s merciful attitude toward an ancient people who, we were told, “added infidelity to infidelity” in their shameful conduct. It reminded us of what we learn every day about our present world, like this past week’s slaughter of 147 innocent people in Kenya. The gospel passage that Sunday brought to some minds the image of a sports stadium and a fan holding up a placard that reads “John 3:16” – “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone might have eternal life.” Another message of hope and encouragement!
(I begin every funeral Mass with the words of a friend and colleague, Father Joseph Nolan, a teacher at Boston College: “Creator God, do not allow us ever to fear death, not if we are really the sisters and brothers of Jesus, who, when he was dying, called you Father and found in your love the place of ultimate surrender.”)
On the fifth Sunday in Lent, as the church approached Holy Week and the Easter Vigil baptism of adult candidates, the emphasis was on our own status as baptized Christians. Faithfulness to the way of Christ in all the situations of our own lives, we were reminded, would sometimes be costly, as Jesus’ own fidelity was costly beyond measure. But we’d have to die many little deaths along the way, the wise old Church taught us, preparing us to undergo the big and final death that awaits us all. That biological death, the late and venerable Jesuit Father Karl Rahner wrote, would end in a “shattering shout of joy” as we discover that the emptiness of death is actually “filled with the mystery of mysteries we call God, filled with God’s pure light and all embracing love.”
We believe it happened to Jesus and that it has happened to all who have died. We believe that it will happen to us.
That’s why we can and should live here on earth with enthusiasm, making this short journey as full and as beautiful as it can possibly be.
And that’s why we say, Happy Easter!!