Stretching toward Easter

Easter eggsIn possibly the strangest editorial on Easter ever written, “Nailing the cross to mind and body” Elizabeth Farrelly actually got past the usual bunnies, coloured eggs and cuteness as she stretched her imagination to find the meaning of Easter. [Click here to read her Sydney Morning Herald editorial] While trying to connect biology and worship, Farrelly actually found her way to the essence of the mystery of Easter — the link between our human condition and the divine. Here are a few of the phrases she uses to summarize as she reached beyond her own horizon of understanding:

  • “Here be magic” — Fannelly connects (and feels wonder as she does this) her pet Pygmy Bearded Dragon, a world in danger, a species in need, a philosopher, a ritual practice and an ancient symbol. I’ll let you read her editorial to see how she does this, very skillfully. But she most certainly is pointing toward the mystery which is at the core of reality, which she calls magic. Easter is a celebration of that most profound reality.
  • “Worship is a vertical stretch” — She contrasts her down-dog yoga pose with her pet dragon’s stretching toward the warmth of the sun, and realizes that “worship is not my natural position.” Why? She doesn’t know; her dragon seems to naturally have it right and she doesn’t. I think that summarises why we need Easter: to remind us to stretch toward the unimaginable reality that now surrounds us, as a result of God’s initiative.
  • “The God-stretch” — Here Farrelly stumbles a bit, as most people do, on the meaning of the cross. She sees the cross symbolizing, in its horizontal axis, human compassion and justice. To her, the vertical axis represents human yearning for truth and justice. These are fine thoughts, and apt metaphors but they get the reality of the cross completely wrong. The cross is God stretching towards us, becoming a servant of our needs, even unto death. This reality is literally unimaginable, so we Christians must forgive people when they search for the meaning of the cross and miss it. We miss it ourselves many times  — that’s one reason why the church celebrates Easter, to remind us that we live in the presence of God’s unfathomable mysterious love.

Another person stretching toward Easter

Pope Benedict XVI wrote an entire book about the meaning of the cross and Easter, called Jesus of Nazareth; Holy Week, from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection.  Benedict was a noted German theologian and scholar before becoming Pope so you might make the mistake of thinking he would be able to completely describe the meaning of the cross and Easter — plumb the depths of mystery and tell us what he finds there so we ordinary people can understand it. Unlike Farrelly, he bases his description on the entire story-arc of the Old and New Testaments, which are ultimately about what God has done in history before, during and after the cross and Easter. But like Farrelly, Benedict ultimately stands in awe of what God is doing, unable to completely grasp what God’s reality is. Here are his own words about this. “(Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) are intended to point us toward realities that defy description.” He does not try to overstate his scholarship or even his obviously strong faith when describing God’s mysterious actions in human history. He stands mute except for the “gift of insight which he hopes has been granted to him.” Here are a few of Benedict’s descriptions of the cross and Easter, within the larger story-arc of the entire history of man and the cosmos.

  • “It is in Jesus’ downward path, in his abasement even to the cross, that God’s glory is seen, that the Father and, in him, Jesus are glorified.”
  • “In his self-offering on the Cross, Jesus, as it were, brings all the sin of the world deep within the love of God and wipes it away.”
  • “His cross and his exaltation is the Day of Atonement for the world, in which the whole of human history — in the face of all human sin and its destructive consequences — finds its meaning and is aligned with its true purpose and destiny.”
  • “God grants to evil and to evildoers a large measure of freedom — too large, we might think. Even so, history does not slip through his fingers.”
  • “(God is patient and) does not impose upon man anything too hard to understand: God acts like a good schoolteacher or a doctor. He slowly puts an end to certain customs, allows others to continue, and thus leads man forward.”
  • “Ultimately, in the battle against lies and violence, truth and love have no other weapon than the witness of suffering.”
  • “The word — which seems almost nothing in comparison to the mighty power of the immeasurable material cosmos, like a fleeting breath against the silent grandeur of the universe — the word is more real and lasting than the entire material world. . . The cosmic elements pass away; the word of Jesus is the true ‘firmament’ beneath which we can stand and remain.”

What is our response?

When I read both Farrelly’s and Benedict’s ideas I immediately ask, what about me? What do I say the cross and Easter means? Somehow I think that both Farrelly and Benedict intended to lead their readers to this question of personal meaning. Reading descriptions of the cross and Easter is not like reading philosophy or history or science. We can stay remote from those areas of knowledge and continue to live our lives satisfactorily in ignorance of how they describe reality. We can’t do that when we encounter the mystery of the cross and Easter. We are involved whether we want to be or not. The sweeping claims about the cross and Easter are universal — we cannot escape their effects, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist.

To me, the cross and Easter confront me everyday as I live in Sydney — in my own (and the great majority of people’s) lack of appreciation for the mystery of this reality. If God yearns to save us so intensely that he became one of us and died a horrific death on the cross willingly, where is my own yearning for him in response? Perhaps humility is the only response anyone can make. “I cannot live as I ought; God help me.” The cross and Easter are just too far beyond our grasp; as Farrelly said “worship is a stretch.” But stretch toward the cross and Easter we must.

 

Easter: “me” or “we”?

In an editorial The great shock of Easter, the Sydney Morning Herald used the Christian Easter proclamation to make a provocative point to a wider audience. “Simply put, ours is a culture that pretends to liberate the “me” from the “we” by inviting each of us to forget about the tried wisdom of the past and to simply feel good about ourselves here and now.” [See complete editorial] As a Christian it pleases me that the SMH featured an editorial about Easter on its Opinion page. Certainly the point being made is a good one. Even Christians tend to forget the wisdom of Christ’s passion and resurrection, which is why we need Lent. In a way, waking up humankind to the existence of a far larger “we” and its wisdom is what Easter truly means.

Sleepers awake!

What Easter is pointing toward is a stunning truth: the transformation of mankind and, through us, the entire universe. Walter Kasper, a noted theologian, summarizes the signficance of Easter as “the event which opens the world to the future . . . a future which is based in the infinite destiny of man . . .the future of all reality has already begun with Jesus and is decisively determined by him, but far more: the person and activity of Jesus are that future.” [Kasper, Jesus the Christ, Paulist Press, 1976] The world and humankind was asleep until Easter morning, when the truth dawned. Even today, we find statements such as Kasper’s almost impossible to believe. The Sydney Morning Herald is right about one thing — our narcissistic “me” has become transfixed in contemplating ourselves, and is missing the wisdom of who we truly are. Not some shimmering image in a mirror but an unimaginable “we’ — the body of Christ, emerging in history.

Christian freedom

As Walter Kasper also points out, liberation is part of the Easter message — “Self-will is not free but quite unfree, because it means slavery to one’s own ego and the whims of the moment.” I think we feel today that we are free because we have so many choices at hand. Many of us have disposable income to pursue these choices. But Easter raises the question of who we are meant to be and whether our choices ought to be only self-willed (a pathological focus on “me”) or meant to be something else. So, especially on Easter morning, sleepers awake! Christian freedom is Christ’s freedom. Christ is the example of living for others, and what it means to truly be part of a “we.” Jesus demonstrated that in dying and rising, in solidarity with all mankind. Take a few minutes this holy season, then, and walk through what happened from the Last Supper through Easter morning. See if it helps you get beyond “me” to what “we” is meant to be.