March 22, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Believe it or not, Death must come before Life

Cynthia DewesIn considering Church feasts, we may secretly prefer Christmas over Easter, even though Easter is actually the greater event.

That’s because Christmas is composed of joyful anticipation followed by the birth of a precious baby, and homage is paid to him by shepherds and Magi alike. Easter, on the other hand, is preceded by 40 days of Lenten disciplines and death on the cross.

It’s easy to forget why Easter is so important. Sometimes, I long for the days of dressing up in new clothes for Easter Mass. Not the hat and gloves, maybe, but just the idea that this day is so special that we need to look our best to celebrate it.

Christmas brings us the promise of salvation, but Easter provides its culmination. Christmas seems all about life, while Easter is necessarily preceded by the cross. And this brings us to the elephant in the room, so to speak, which is death.

Death is probably the scariest thing that we humans will ever face, and we know it is inevitable. And it’s not just corporeal death, which is horrifying enough, but also the mini-deaths, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” of suffering, disease, injustice or whatever.

When we’re little, we have no conception of death. If we’re taken to Grandpa’s funeral, we understand that it’s a solemn occasion, but we don’t realize that it means Grandpa is gone from our lives forever. That realization grows as we age, and its reality can be intimidating.

So being human, we ignore the subject or go into denial of it. In order to deal with death, we make fun of it. We tell gallows humor jokes, dress up in scary outfits on Halloween, and revel in spooky Friday the 13th kinds of movies because we can handle what’s just pretend.

Of course, when we’re young we really don’t believe that we will ever die. We’re strong and vigorous and can’t imagine the possibility of it. Maybe we’re busy bargaining with God or just postponing thinking about it. It’s like “Talk to the hand because the mind isn’t listening.”

What we need is a change of heart, and Lent is the time set aside by the Church for us to contemplate what that means. With the help of prayer, Scripture reading and self-denial, we consider the meaning of Jesus’ Passion and death, and its relationship to our own lives—and deaths. We need to repent and plan.

Now, in these last days of Lent, we’re coming down to the wire. Soon, Jesus will ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, his way paved with palm branches, and onlookers cheering in joyful anticipation. They’re expecting a king who will end oppression and create for them a temporal kingdom of peace and prosperity.

What they don’t understand is that Jesus will not bring a temporal kingdom, but rather a spiritual kingdom of hope for eternal freedom, peace and joy. And it will come with a high price of pain, suffering and death. The Cross must come before triumphant Life.

As we age, we realize the truth of death. And in faith, we prepare for it so that one day we’re able to say, “Happy Easter!” and understand what it really means.

Here’s a “Reflection” by poet Alice Freeman Palmer in St. Anthony Messenger magazine which seems to sum it up well: “For I remember it is Easter morn, and life and love and peace are all newborn.”

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

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