Consider the humor of comedian Woody Allen and his comical search for the meaning of life. He said once that, while life has its occasional funny moments, “…most of life is tragic. You’re born, you don’t know why. You’re here, you don’t know why. You go, you die. Your family dies. Your friends die. People suffer. People live in constant terror. The world is full of poverty and corruption and war and Nazis and tsunamis…The net result, the final count, is, you lose – you don’t beat the house.”
There’s nothing new about such a lament, of course. The world has lived with it since the dawn of civilization. In the Old Testament, the holy scripture of Woody Allen’s own Jewish ancestry, the question is raised over and over again. Modern song asks “What’s it all about, Alfie?” And Peggy Lee has sung a thousand times, “Is that all there is?” as she reviewed life’s promises, each one ending in disappointment and disillusionment, culminating in the final, deceptive promise of something glorious after death. She wails, in anticipation of the ultimate letdown, “Is that all there is?”
No one is to be condemned for such thoughts and fears. They are natural and perfectly understandable. There is no argument compelling and logical enough to change someone’s mind in the matter. And let’s be honest enough to admit that we Christians ourselves have entertained similar sentiments and maybe even carry a hint of them with us always. We say to ourselves, what if there is nothing but annihilation after death? What if we simply cease to exist — snuffed out like an insect underfoot? Who can say with absolute certainty that this is not a possibility?
That’s the darkness we live with. We are painfully conscious of our mortality and that we have no control over inevitable death. Some wise person put it well in these words: Death is the ultimate embarrassment of the human race.
Into this woeful scene comes Jesus with his brilliant message, piercing and shattering the night like a shaft of sunlight. He experienced God uniquely, and he speaks from that deeply personal encounter. His shameful death was the last, and futile, act of the boastful darkness. Jesus’ resurrection was proof for people of faith that we are not, as we are prone to suspect, cheated at death; on the contrary, we move from life to Life, into a mysterious union with the God whom we can know only dimly on this earthly journey but are made to know later on, and forever, as intimately as Jesus knows God.
As Christians, we live by faith in the assurances of Jesus and by his invitation to follow him. There’s no proof for what we believe in, at least not in the sense of hard, empirical, concrete evidence. We can only examine carefully the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus and then accept his testimony as establishing our Christian view of human existence and human destiny.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who guarantees us abundant and eternal life, to which he himself leads us.
Those who speak like Woody Allen, grieving over the final futility of human existence, ought to listen to Jesus and to those who knew him first and consider the different and far more appealing worldview that he offers. Anyone who can and does accept it lives on a much happier plain by far.
And that’s why we say “Happy Easter!”