Death and Resurrection
The cycles of Catholic liturgy tune in to nature’s seasons, like counterpoint in a symphony, making time more festive and less routine. The liturgy accents an old cliché, “Tempus Fugit.” “Time flies.” Liturgical seasons color in time, adding sweet touches of festivity, like drops of honey, to even the blandest stretches of winter or summer. Weekday Mass goers feel this all the more. The Church’s seasons and feasts blend our imaginations with memories of years gone by, memories of saints gone Home and memories of future joys in Heaven. The seasons of the liturgy give us good excuses to celebrate more often, even in Lent, such as on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and the Annunciation (March 25).
Even the minor memorials of obscure saints, like Turibius of Mongrovejo (March 23) and Fidelis of Sigmaringen (April 24) – to whom I’ve never offered a novena nor to whom it has ever occurred to me beg their intercession (I might now, just to see what happens) – give joy to time by distracting us from worldly business and feeding us thoughts about holiness. Of course, Christmas and Easter are the biggies. They touch deeply on every Christian’s childhood memories and adult aspirations. I recall in living color those Easter family reunions in Biloxi, Mississippi, which ran from Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday. My grandfather started these reunions in 1963 in Panama City, Florida, and the tradition continues to this day in Orange Beach, Alabama. The tuna sandwiches by the pool and Stations of the Cross on Good Friday; the older cousins (high school age on up) going out for a big seafood feast at a dockside restaurant on Holy Saturday while the parents and aunts and uncles went out for a fancy dinner hosted by my Paw-Paw while the pre-teens did the babysitting; the dignity of duding up in suit and tie for Easter Sunday Mass followed by brunch at the Broadwater Marina and family fun and games afterward. All of these festivities and rites were like glorious music embellishing two moments of silence: Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and Mass on Easter Sunday. The fun was like the flowers adorning a casket and a Pascal candle at a funeral, celebrating death and resurrection all at once. In other words, it was about Baptism. The grief of a funeral and the joy of an Easter family reunion are bound up with each other, in fact and in symbol. Grief and joy come together in Christ.
There is another benefit to these cycles of Church seasons and feasts, especially as we grow older. As we bank memories as past Christmases and Easters, we begin to think about our own mortality. Every feast, be it a biggie like Easter or obscure like St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, always points to life beyond death. It suggests a New Creation beyond the cycles of time and the wheels of fortune. Every feast says something fresh about holiness and the prospect of rising above the troubles of this world. Every feast offers fresh hope when we encounter suffering and death.
Easter is the sum of all feast days. Every celebrated event of God’s Providence – like the Annunciation (March 25), Birth of John the Baptist (June 24), the Assumption of Mary (August 15), the Nativity of Mary (September 8), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (February 2) – and every celebrated saint and martyr culminates in the resurrection of Christ on the first Sunday (today), after the first Full Moon (last April 11), after the Vernal Equinox (6:28AM last March 20). In Christ’s resurrection, Light conquers darkness.
When I say “Christ’s resurrection,” I don’t just mean the Son of God’s personal resurrection as an isolated incident. Jesus is not just another black belt showing off his karate. It’s about the resurrection of the entire Body of Christ, joined to Him in Baptism, destined to live with Him forever in the beauty of a New Creation. In fact, it’s about the resurrection of all Creation into a New Heaven and New Earth. Easter is not just about the resurrection as if it were a passing event that took place after Passover outside Jerusalem about 2000 years ago. It’s about the resurrection of the universe at the End of the world when Christ comes again to render the Final Resolution: the Last Judgment. This resurrection sums up and resolves all of time and history. The inexplicable and unspeakable crimes and injustices that man has inflicted up man, starting with Cain and Abel all the way through the horrific events of our own times, can and will be resolved by a resurrection from the dead and a Final Judgment rendered by the risen Son of God. The resurrection reveals the meaning and purpose of everything that has ever happened, that is happening, and that will happen, thereby giving glory to God and joy to man. Even all evil done in time will serve the glory of God and the good of man. For the un-repentant, the resurrection will reveal God’s justice. For the repentant, the resurrection will reveal God’s mercy. Either way, God is served and man is blessed. That’s the Easter Mystery.
To be sure, Easter is an Octave: an Eight-Day feast. It runs from Easter Sunday to Mercy Sunday (this year from April 16-23). The “eight days” of Easter signify that the resurrection of the Jesus is the first day of a New Creation. Recall that Genesis 1 tells the tale of the world being made in the course of six days, with God resting on the seventh. The eighth day, Sunday, represents the beginning of something entirely new. “Behold, I make all things new” (Isaiah 43:18-19, Rev. 21:5)! The Easter Season lasts fifty days, and concludes with Pentecost, when “Lord and Giver of Life” descends upon his Church.
But before all things are made new, some things must die. Perhaps the entire Gospel can be summed up in these words of Christ: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). St. Paul elaborates: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?’ You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. … So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-44).
Holiness in this life is a constant “dying to one’s self,” that is, an ongoing death to selfishness so the Holy Spirit can renew life. Getting out of the Holy Spirit’s way is half the battle. I think that there is a Sin deeper than the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, envy, greed, wrath, gluttony, lust and sloth), something deeper and darker than anything the Church is willing to print in a Catechism book. It’s something deeper and darker than Pride, the sin of Satan. This Sin of which I speak is the dank and dismal swamp where Pride breeds her six venomous offspring, the other six Deadly Sins, and all who enter this swamp run the risk of being forever lost. Its name is Possessiveness. Possessiveness is an undue desire to control – to control ourselves, others, situations and even God himself. Possessiveness makes us want to form another person into our own “image and likeness” and even to form ourselves according our own imaginations or egos. Possessiveness drives us to concoct our own little universes; to set up something “good” that rivals God’s Good; and we are loath to have our little worlds disturbed or rearranged. Through possessiveness, we try create a world that we can dominate. We want to dominate the past, present and future, as if both Tradition and Progress begin with us. Possessiveness breeds pride, envy, wrath and greed, and it often builds little nests for gluttony, lust and sloth. Death to possessiveness is death to all sin. It’s about letting go, trusting God’s grace and becoming truly free. Death to possessiveness wordlessly echoes the most definitive word of Christ on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)!
Christ’s resurrection – and ours – begins in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). At first, we may not detect hints of future glory in these agonizing words. But they are the root of it all. When you and I were baptized, we were baptized into an attitude: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” In other words, everything is a gift that comes from the Father’s will. I can feel as free in letting go as in receiving. I can be like a child again – but like a new kind of child who doesn’t cry when his candy is taken away. Explain the candy in the first place! We cannot grab it, cling to it, secure it, protect it or lock it away. We cannot lay claim to it or sue God or man for any rights to it. Clinging to life – or to any gift for that matter – is like clinging to a cloud in order to save one’s self after falling out of an airplane. This may seem to be a maddening outlook in today’s security seeking culture of entitlement. But it’s the only way to life. "Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). We must let go of ourselves and “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4), for “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” and He is the “first fruit of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15: 20). Christ is risen! Trust Him. And new life will begin.