by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“My love for you will never end; I will keep forever my promise of peace.” Isaiah 54, 5-14
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” John 20, 1-9
It takes only a few moments of reflection to realise that we have to love something really deeply to bring it back from the dead. It strikes me that it is a combination of self-hatred and disregard for others that keeps our slums the way they are. On a grander scale, it is a lack of care on the part of some that locks whole communities and even nations into endless cycles of poverty, neglect, starvation, unemployment and hopelessness. If we loved sufficiently, our seas and waterways would be clean again, stars would reappear, trees would be healthy and green. Moreover, the strained and dead relationships in families, work-places, offices and schools, he boredom and edginess, the sullen distances between colleagues and family members need only a smile or a word of love and acceptance to be healed. Who can love enough to resurrect our world and all who dwell in it? Who can brighten the days of the sick and elderly who wait helplessly for death to overtake them? Who can infuse life and energy into those who struggle to walk, into those whose memory has so failed them that they can’t even contemplate what it means to die?
The only great love that can deal with all this is the focus of today’s Easter celebration. It is God’s immense love for Jesus, the Christ. God demonstrated boundless love and affection for Jesus in a resurrection. Jesus is swept up by God’s immense love and stands alive with a new kind of life, proclaiming peace and acceptance to all his friends, even to those who had denied and deserted him in his greatest need. What’s more is that Paul assures us that we share in Jesus’ new life, for we are numbered among Jesus’ friends. Jesus associates us with himself and elicits from God the same kind of creative love that God has for him.
In the second reading from Romans during the Mass of the Easter Vigil, we hear Paul explaining the meaning of Baptism, using the metaphor of Christ’s death and resurrection: “You have been taught that, when we were baptised in Christ Jesus, we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life” (Romans 6, 3-4).
We can easily let this pass us by as a snippet of eloquent-sounding but almost meaningless, theological language. Moreover, it was probably included in the Easter Vigil Mass for the benefit of the men and women who were baptized in the presence of everyone gathered in the church. Their baptism was the culmination of the year-long program bearing the name of The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) – or, more simply, Preparation for Baptism. But what exactly is Paul saying in this reading from Romans, which is directed to all of us?
I suggest that he is explaining that all of us who have been baptized have been made members of the Christian community by the very process of baptism. He is stressing that baptism is much more than getting dipped or dunked in holy water, or being sprinkled with it. It means becoming part of a community that is trying to love and act as Jesus loved and acted, and getting crucified for its efforts. In a way, all decent human beings throughout the whole world are trying to do something like that, even if they have not even heard of Jesus. That’s what explains the notion of “baptism of desire” – a term invented by theologians ages ago, to indicate that everyone who does good is somehow caught up into God.
But we all bear the scars of our best endeavours, of the times when we have been hurt doing our best in the service of love, trying to imitate the way Jesus spoke and lived. Nobody has to make arrangements to be crucified. “Crucifixion” is the inevitable consequence of trying to actively battle things like injustice, prejudice, heartlessness, greed, violence, terrorism and neglect – all the “deaths” that plague humanity.
Easter tells us that even though we, too, have done our share of crucifying, Jesus still brings us to God’s attention as friends of his; he spruces us up, smooths our ruffled feathers and introduces us to God as long-time friends. Yet, all this is not exactly necessary, for the succession of readings we hear during the Easter Vigil service is a summary of the history of God’s boundless love for us and our world. There is a reference to our sinfulness here and there in these readings, but it’s little more than the kind of thing parents do when they urge their children to do better. All told, this is a pretty good Easter message for all of us Christians to bring to one another and to our world still very much in the grip of death.
Still, it is all too easy to get caught up by the negativity of our world, to get trapped into feeling sorry for ourselves, to let our problems batter and overwhelm us, to become stalled in a Good Friday world. But in raising Jesus from the dead, God vindicated everything that Jesus had lived and proclaimed. God put the stamp of approval on the message of Jesus that good eventually triumphs over evil, that love transforms bitterness and hatred, that hope dissipates fear, that light dispels darkness. It is truly Easter in our lives when love, generosity and compassion draw us out of our tombs of stagnation and hopelessness, when we know that the love, affirmation, acceptance and encouragement that we receive from others is nothing but the embrace of God. It is Easter whenever new life and hope are breathed by God’s Spirit into our hearts, our minds and our spirits.