Resurrection Impact: An Inventory of Easter Effects
One thing I love about Easter Sunday is the packed church at major Masses. I am amazed that, after all the world has been through for the past two millennia, people still come out to celebrate a fantastical event, the likes of which, as far as we know, has not happened since (save for Mary’s Assumption). I find it especially amazing that, after centuries of “enlightened” skepticism about anything supernatural, people still come out to celebrate the most supernatural proposition of all: a man who claimed to be the Son of God was executed (Roman fashion), rose from the dead three days later, revealed his glorified Self to believers for forty days, ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. This proposition brings out all kinds of well-dressed people to its equally baffling sequel: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Overflowing Easter Masses make many regular churchgoers ask, “Where did they all come from?” There’s no point in trying to figure it out. The reason why so many people come out at Easter may not be the “reason” that we or they think. The Resurrection has done something to all of us, no matter what we believe and no matter what our reasons may be for doing anything. Without making trite or moralistic judgments, I think it’s fair to say that there are many reluctant tag-alongs and drag-alongs at Easter Masses. It’s not hard to imagine:
He drove in from Cleveland with the wife and kids on Good Friday to visit his Catholic in-laws. His mother-in-law let him have it on Easter Sunday: “Put your yellow bow tie on and get your *** in the car! We’re going to Mass and brunch!” It may be a drag, but so what? Such a “reason” for going to Mass may not be the best, but it’s good enough, like a C-. Providence works in the most unlikely ways. From God’s vantage point, there may be reasons for going to Easter Mass that neither the son-in-law nor the mother-in-law are aware of. Providence and Grace usually evade human consciousness. So does the Resurrection. Our “reasons” for doing things may just be petty distractions from what’s really going on with God’s plan. Thank God for bossy mothers-in-law. They can be handy hammers in God’s toolbox. God uses all kinds of instruments to make us touch base with Him.
Nonetheless, it’s remarkable that what skeptics and sons-in-law have long claimed is a naïve tale with roots in the bronze age is still getting lots of people out of the house, off the iPhone and into Mass for at least one Sunday a year. Providence being what it is, there is something mysterious about multitudes of reluctant churchgoers touching base with the most important event since God said, “Let there be light!”
What’s even more amazing – or at least more amusing – is that some non-believers try to one-up the Easter mystery with secular versions. I recall the headline in an Easter Sunday Washington Post. It was about some billionaires who are developing technologies that they say will make people (at least billionaires) live forever. That’s thought-provoking. Google executive Ray Kurzweil takes 150 vitamins a day so he can live long enough to invent robots that will keep people alive, perhaps forever. Whatever you make of this, one thing is clear: ever since Christ’s Resurrection, the human imagination has been irretrievably affected by the prospect of immortality.
Immortality is romantic. Like romance, it’s also hopeful. The Christian version of immortality (the original version) – rising from the dead – is the most romantic and hopeful ideal of all. This supernatural mystery of Faith has the power to draw out people who are otherwise indifferent to Faith (like the reluctant son-in-law) as well as tantalize the imaginations of high-tech inventors (like Kurzweil). As far I am concerned, this is another reason to believe (or at least to take seriously) that Christ’s Resurrection – and all that it implies – is true. No one can accuse the Resurrection of being just another quaint or obscure idea that has fallen by the wayside of history, like medieval alchemy. Its impact is universal and ongoing.
On God’s part, it was ingenious to perform a “once-only” Resurrection upon which hinges the entire Faith that saves the world. “Once only” means “once only,” so you can’t study it or subject it to scientific investigation. A “once-only” Resurrection (that won’t happen again until The End) can neither be proved nor disproved – let alone replicated – by any methods of human knowledge: not science, not philosophy, not math, not critical history, not electronic data gathering, neither carbon nor radiation testing, not experiments with entropy, neither computer simulations nor any method that human genius has concocted to figure stuff out. All we’ve got is Faith: belief in solemnly defined dogma. A “once-only” Resurrection is like a “once-only” falling madly in love. There is no pattern that can prove it. The best we can do is look at the evidence: the manic behavior that unrelentingly flows from it. “Put your yellow bow tie on!”
What’s embarrassingly notable – and romantic – about Christ’s Resurrection is that, during his 40-day layover, He only revealed Himself to people who believed in Him. This kind of thing would drive the FBI crazy. “I won’t tell you or show you anything unless you really believe me.” It’s like a car salesman who says, “If you don’t believe that this is the best car ever, I won’t let you test drive it.” It’s the kind of thing that keeps you guessing, and you’re not sure what’s up. Is this a gimmick? A conspiracy? What’s going on here? Admittedly, the Resurrection event is hard to read. But in my view, this makes it more credible. I don’t suspect that the saving actions of an Eternal Creator would be easy to read by any member of a race that takes SATs to get in to college.
Moreover, if the Resurrection were easy to understand, then it would not be about Love. Love is never easy to understand. One of the perennial proofs of Love is that it is baffling. Jeremiah wasn’t kidding when he said, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? If the Resurrection were not mysterious and baffling, it would not be about Love. It would just be amusing, like Superman leaping a tall building in a single bound. But it would have no power to transform the human race into a Communion of Saints. It would have no power over suffering and death. Like a lover playing hard-to-get, Love presupposes Faith and Hope because it is mysterious and baffling. Both Love and Love’s Resurrection demand an intimate relationship with a Person: Jesus Christ. In one way or another, a lover always says: “Put all your chips on my number, or put none at all.” “Take me – hook, line and sinker – or don’t take me at all.” That’s the essence of wedding vows. The Risen One says, “If you believe in Me, I will give you a share in my inheritance. If you don’t, forget it.” St. Paul puts it this way: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). St. Peter said as much: [He] has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21).
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor