April 6, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The reign of heaven is at hand

Cynthia DewesThere was a time when Easter most likely meant fuzzy chicks, jellybeans and dressing up for Mass.

Of course, it also meant an army of ants marching to the Easter baskets left carelessly on the floor, muddy white Sunday shoes, stale hot cross buns and ham … endless ham. In some quarters, it still means those things, and that’s great as far as it goes.

But over time on our spiritual journey, Easter is revealed to us as the splendid and climactic mystery it is: The literal wonder that God appeared to us imperfect creatures as one of us in order to teach us perfection. And then he sacrificed himself, all this out of love, so that we might live with God forever in joy. Wow.

Certainly the chocolate bunnies and baby ducklings, the daffodils and other holiday symbols are reminders of spring, the season in which they occur. And spring, of course, reminds us of rebirth, new life, resurrection. It’s an optimistic, hopeful time that gives us an inkling of the reign of heaven promised by Easter.

Garry Wills, writing in his book What Jesus Meant, said, “It is the simple contention of this book that what Jesus meant is clearly laid out in the Gospels.” And he concluded, “But neither [a particular Church or a brand of politics] is what he meant by ‘the reign of heaven.’

“Heaven’s reign is himself [Jesus], the avenue of access to the Father. He partly opened that access on earth, but the process will be complete only in the Father’s bosom when history ends.

“One enters the heavenly reign by sharing Jesus’ own intimacy with the Father. He is the Vine, to which the branches must be attached to draw life from him. By becoming members of his mystical body, one honors the Father and passes the key test for a disciple—treating the poor, the thirsty, the hungry, the naked as if they were Jesus.”

Wills said the Gospels also warn us how we might become detached from the Vine, as in the parables of the wheat and chaff being separated at harvest time, or the net full of fish which must be sorted out at the shore.

He wrote, “Jesus’ followers have the obligation that rests on all men and women: to seek justice based on the dignity of every human being.

“That is the goal of politics, of ‘the things that belong to Caesar.’ But heaven’s reign makes deeper and broader demands, the demands not only of justice but of love.”

Wills continued, “[St.] Augustine knew that the highest human faculty is love, the self-emptying love of Jesus,” and he quoted Jesus speaking in John’s Gospel: “A new instruction I have given you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must also love one another. All will know that you are my followers by this sign alone, that you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34:35).

Symbols of joy, hope and rebirth help us begin to understand the meaning of Easter. But when we mature, we also consider the great love which has come into our lives through family, friends, nature, intellectual delight or just the kindness of strangers.

Then we realize that in sharing our love as Jesus did at Easter, the reign of heaven truly begins. Through God’s grace, we’ll truly be Christians known for our love. Happy loving! Happy Easter!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

Local site Links: