I am sure you have been through that horrible experience of a life changing trauma. Maybe it is a relative that dies or maybe it is a severe accident or some other event. You know what it is like to wake up the morning after the trauma and start asking the question “What does this all mean?”
You may have also been through the same thing for a life changing joyful event. Maybe it is winning the lottery, or meeting that special person for the first time or one of countless things and again that question comes: What does this all mean?
Today we are in the situation again, asking the question “What does it all mean?” “What does Easter mean?”
We can be joyful about it, but if we do not fully understand the meaning of this day, then ultimately, it will not affect us in the long run and be just another day like Flag Day with candy.
The key word to be used in Easter is liberation. The next question is from what are we liberated? The answer is death, in all its forms.
This is a fascinating reality, because even Atheists who reject the concept of God willingly admit all they can offer you ultimately is death. They package it in the form of the intelligent thing to accept, but there is not a single atheist in the world that can offer you anything but final death.
But I also said Jesus liberates us from death in all its forms. This is because death comes in many forms in our world, and Jesus calls us to reject the world and embrace the love of Christ. Yet, what is it that Jesus also liberates us from in light of death. That is fear of death. Once you are liberated from death and fear of it, you are liberated from everything that can hold you back from being the creation that God called you to be. There is nothing that can undermine God’s will for you. Nothing.
Let me give you a good example. There is a bishop in Buffalo, NY who in defense of life actually stood his ground against the then Attorney General of NY. The AG known for using his power to bully perceived enemies of his party and in this case those pregnancy help agencies that offer alternatives to abortion. This man who terrorized Wall Street backed down when a bishop stood his ground. The Bishop trusted in God, this enabled him to stand while others, appearing more powerful than he, cowered.
The only thing that can undermine God’s will for you is your own will, nothing else. God has created you and has done everything possible for you to be the fullness of his creation of you. That is His will. The only thing separating you from that promise is your choice not to partake in his gift. Period.
Let’s look at that statement I just made. Prior to the Death and resurrection of Christ choice did not exist. We lived in a world under the domination of sin and death and our only recourse was to sin and death. When we look at traditional morality we can see throughout the Old Testament that the promise of redemption was at hand but never here. In the fullness of time, which came in the Gospel times, we received redemption. Therefore, death reigned throughout that time up until the death and resurrection of Christ. There was no choice in the matter, there was one option and that was death.
Once Jesus’ resurrection comes now for the first time there are two options not one. Seek Christ and find life, continue the same track and experience death. For the first time we have a choice that did not exist before . . . life. In fact, Jesus promises this life to the full, good measure pressed down. Now all we need to do is to follow Him.
This means however that everything that precedes Christ had no promise of life that includes everything. The Jews alone are the chosen people and Jesus came through the Jews and redeems their history, what about the other cultures. Let’s look at one: Roman Religion and our secular culture.
The predominant philosopher for our age is Friedrich Nietzsche, who preached “God is dead.” Actually, what he preached was that God was dead and we have killed him because we made Him irrelevant in our lives. It should be noted that Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran Pastor. He fully understood our faith, but rejected it. If God is dead, said Nietzsche, then we are now gods. It is our role to be gods. We make the rules, we take the power. That too exists in our world. If you look carefully at the culture of today, many will say it is like ancient Rome. Maybe, but look more carefully, it is also the culture of the Roman Gods. You have a class in our society that has chosen to live that culture of the Roman Gods by living by the rules that they make and by taking on the roles of the caretakers of the culture.
Now our society can worship the great larger than life Hollywood stars for example. They will tell us to imitate them: imitate their morality, imitate their passion and adhere to their causes, then we will experience freedom and liberation. We need only imitate them by taking upon ourselves the role of the godlike caretakers of the earth, just like them. When we do that we will find liberation and death because only Christ can offer eternal life.
One of the principles that Jesus taught is that all the other systems work fine in good weather, but they fail when things go wrong. He says that in the parable of the house built on sand and the house built on rock.
Let us embrace this culture of the humanized gods for a second. Give some thought to those names I mentioned or any names that you want to come up with and ask yourself this question: What can those humanized gods do for the employees of Bears Sterns who one week ago exactly watched their life savings vanish? Two weeks ago, they held stock that was worth about 60 dollars a share, now their stock is worth two dollars a share. For every share they owned they lost $58 dollars. That means one day the person who owned 10,000 shares owned 600,000 dollars and the next day the exact same stock was worth only $20,000 a loss of over a half a million dollars overnight and they had no control over that process. The great Hollywood gods can do nothing for them except maybe help them buy a sandwich.
Yet in their faith, they can trust in Christ and he can promise them maybe not a return of their money, but a hope and peace, even in such dark times that no one else can promise. That is also the liberation the Christ promises.
In my role, I have dealt with many who suffered devastating losses, who lived with a hope that yielded something greater than the best stock portfolio could ever yield. This is the eternal promise of Christ.
We are not gods, we are only humans, but in Christ we have a loving God who frees us from all the destructive forces that promise much and deliver nothing. That is our hope. Our call is to be agents of that hope. Our vocation is to be as St. Paul says, ambassadors to the world representing the kingdom of God of which we are members. It is not us who are the gods, it is God, who calls us to be part of his kingdom and who forms us to be agents of his love. You and I, therefore, participate in the greatest power in the Universe, the power of love and hope. It is the choice we have, it is the promise we receive and it is the message we bring to those who seek something more than what the world offers and that is ultimately nothing more death. We have found and can bring life, life to the full. Just as Jesus said.
But we must be careful not to miss out on that promise. We do so when we reduce everything that Jesus gives to us as a system of rules that we must follow to be saved. That is not Catholicism and Christianity. The rules are there to lead us to Christ they are not Christ themselves. If you live a system that follows rules you miss the point. I go to Church because I am supposed to, misses the point that my vocation is to go to church, celebrate what Christ has done for me and respond in kind. May I learn what he chooses for me to do in response to his gift to me. That is experiencing and responding in love. That is our choice as well. Do we come to embrace the gift Christ gave to us or do we simply follow rules? We will never experience Christ if all we do is follow rules because we are supposed to, that is what the Pharisees did and they never knew Christ.
Let us go to that bishop I gave as an example: He could have just followed rules and many do, but he stood on the gift of the resurrected Christ and then acted upon it, standing up to one of the greatest bullies in American history. Remember rules are the minimum standard, Christ calls us to greater heights than the minimum standard can offer. We must never fall below that standard, but we must never shoot for it either. We need to embrace and follow Christ to the places that only he can show us. Places that are beyond the understanding of many of the Earthly humans who only act like gods but are not, places that Jesus shows leads us to know and then share his love as he demands.
This too is part of the meaning of Easter, that special day that has come upon to remind us of the choice we have and the promises that are ours through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, again we remember our choice; walk out celebrating the gift Christ has given us in his resurrection and walk out saying we did our duty for the year. Bullies love those who do the latter and cower at those who do the former, because the former know the true meaning of liberation and act upon it.