Easter is upon us.
From the time I was a child until the present day, I have always been amazed by how differently Americans generally and Christians particularly respond to Easter and Christmas.
Christmas is impossible to avoid. Regardless of who you are, if you are a resident of the Western world, you have no choice but to reckon with Christmas. The bonanza of films and television specials, the decorations, the festivities, the music—Christmas is ubiquitous.
Easter, on the other hand, is not nearly so. A person stands a better chance of sleeping his way through Easter than he does Thanksgiving or even, perhaps, Independence Day. If your average Christian American wasn’t already habituated to this state of affairs, it could only strike him as bizarre.
By far and away, Easter Sunday is the most significant of holidays for the Christian. Even Christmas assumes importance only in light of Easter. After all, it is for the sake of the Resurrection that Christmas—the Birth of Christ—took place at all.
By now, there is scarcely a soul, Christian or non-Christian, who isn’t familiar with the story of Easter. Ironically, it is in no small measure because of this familiarity that we have become desensitized to what a truly marvelous story it is. To appreciate it to the extent that it deserves, we must become reacquainted with Easter. And to this end, we must approach it through new eyes.
According to the story of Easter, God, the Unconditioned Condition of all that is subjected Himself to the conditions of human existence. The Impassable became passable, the Invulnerable vulnerable, the Incorruptible corruptible. Upon becoming a human being, the Ground and Author of all being voluntarily suffered and died. And He suffered and died for the sake of the same love by which He created humanity (and everything else, for that matter).
Yet while God loves us, it is crucial to recall that, as St. John tells us, God is Love. The Easter story is the story of how Love—Infinite, Eternal Love—became a finite, temporal human being in order to teach other human beings how to perfect their own loving. Through His Passion and Death Love made it unmistakable that the will to love is nothing more or less than the will to sacrifice all for the sake of one’s beloved. When it is considered that there isn’t a single person for whom Christ did not offer His life as a sacrifice, we recognize that the formidability of love’s demand to give one’s life for the object of one’s love is even greater than previously thought, for Jesus’ example beckons us to love everyone: the world must be each person’s beloved.
Believe it or not, for as tall an order as this demand undoubtedly is, it is not insurmountable. In fact, if we think about it for just a moment, we will recognize both that it resonates with us as well as why it resonates.
The experience of love is as familiar—and universal—a human experience as any. Not everyone loves equally well but we are all equal in having loved. Now, regardless of who or even what we have loved, there can be no denying that love comes at the cost of pain. To love anything is to turn oneself over to it—and this means that the lover exposes him or herself to the inescapability of being hurt.
There is a real sense in which each time we dare to love we will to give up our lives for the objects of our love. Lovers invest their resources in time, labor, and energy—in short, their lives—in their beloved—in spite of the losses that they know they will inevitably suffer. It isn’t just that, as Robert Frost said, “nothing gold can stay;” even in the midst of their love there will be pain. There are moments when we feel more alone in the presence of our loved ones than when they are no longer with us. Those who we love disappoint, anger, and sadden us, and with each of these experiences, there is the experience of having been betrayed—the experience of suffering a small death.
Yet still, we continue to love.
The Christian is heartened because he believes in Easter. He knows that his Lord, his God, has experienced what he has been experiencing his whole life. “No servant is greater than his master,” Jesus declared. The Christian is inspired to continue loving in the face of pain because Christ did the same. The Passion narrative brings into crystal clear focus the brute fact that whatever injustices we think we have endured, Christ willingly endured them, but many times over.
He was betrayed, and not just by Judas: His own family members and all of his Apostles, including and particularly those with whom He was closest, denied Him. The legions of people to whose needs and hopes He attended throughout the duration of His ministry turned violently against Him in His hour of trial. He was unjustly sentenced to be executed as a common criminal, but even as He was being hammered to a cross, He forgave His accusers and betrayers, and asked His heavenly Father to do the same.
While Jesus’ Passion and Death reveal love at its finest, it is really His Resurrection upon which Christian faith hinges, for it is through the Resurrection that Love’s indomitable character is unveiled. Real, abiding love, God tells us through the Resurrection, is redemptive. Yes, the greatest lovers are those who suffer the greatest heartache, but all of the loss and suffering with which love is met, God reassures us, will be redeemed. Even death has been rendered impotent by Love.
This is the promise of the Resurrection.