April 6, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Easter is the pre-eminent feast of hope

Once again, we sing with Easter gusto, “The strife is o’er, the battle won.” Yet much will seem the same on Easter Monday.

Easter faith lifts our spirit, but Easter faith is also perplexing. We are born of mother earth, and we bury each other in mother earth.

We are too much a part of the earth to want to leave her, yet as someone once said: “The earth bears us with infinite hearts, and alas, what she gives us is too beautiful for us to scorn and too poor to satisfy us fully … .” Mother earth brings forth both life and death, not one without the other.

We call this mixture of life and death, of joy and sorrow, of exciting activity and tiresome duty, the stuff of everyday life. We at once love it, and yet we want something more.

We long for something that makes us more than sisters and brothers in pain and suffering and in moments of joy that pass too quickly. We want a sisterhood and brotherhood that is something more than a passing dream; we want it to be down-to-earth and lasting.

A person named Jesus, the Son of God and also a child of this earth, revealed a Father, a Father like no other father, whose love mysteriously surpasses our passing experience of love. He gave us a mother, the Church, filled with the Spirit of life and from whose womb in baptism all of us are reborn to a life that will never end.

The suffering and death which God asked of his own Son gives us the only key that helps us make sense of the human tragedy that is all around us.

Once more, we trace the Holy Week path of an innocent son of the earth who was betrayed by a friend, and then forced to die the humiliating and excruciating death of a criminal. And once more, we emerge from Holy Week rejoicing because we remember we have been saved from sin and death. Alleluia!

Over and over again, I remind us that our Church clings to the tradition of displaying the cross with the image of the body of Jesus on it. We keep the tradition of venerating the crucifix, and not only the plain cross. This tradition is not a denial of the victory of Jesus over death, and it is not a displacement of the Resurrection in Christian life.

The crucifix is not a sign of death, it is a sign of life because it is always viewed with the glow of the Resurrection around that body born of earth like our own.

We want to be reminded that a real human person stretched out his arms on the cross and suffered so deeply because he loves us. Our crucifixes embrace a down-to-earth Christian realism about life and death and resurrection, and they strike a chord in our human experience.

Even during Easter week, we face the Christian reality that our salvation was won through real sweat and blood, suffering of the most unbearable kind. We are saved by a suffering love. And yes, we need to remember even now that the worst sting of all for Jesus was the betrayal by “one of his own.”

I say this to reach out to those among us who bear more than their share of human suffering. The love of Jesus is for every one of us, and not just for a few. Most important of all, he showed us that life does not end when we are returned to the earth.

Easter is the feast of hope. For those who face death with fear, Jesus showed once and for all that in death, life is merely changed, not taken away. This life as we know it is only the vestibule to something more beautiful.

Yet it is true, we do not understand birth and death, we do not understand rebirth and resurrection. Like Peter, as he stooped to look into the empty tomb, we can only be amazed. So Easter is a sacred feast of happy faith and firm hope. Easter is the pre-eminent feast of hope! For those who face death with fear, Jesus showed once and for all that in death, life is changed and not taken away.

Once more with peaceful hearts, we thank God for the gift of our Easter faith! Thank God for the gift of his own Son and for Christ’s Easter victory! We thank God for the gift of our Church, which carries forward the Easter mystery in the life of the sacraments and our community of faith even in the midst of suffering that will pass away.

God bless you and yours with the happiest Easter ever! †

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