Keeping the feast
“Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us…”
These words from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins make a profound connection between Christ’s resurrection and our own. As we read the Gospels, we can see that the events in our Lord’s life that we call to mind in Holy Week and Easter happened to Jesus’ followers in a very human way.
With his death, they experienced their own dying: a dying to the hopes and expectations and self-understandings that derived from their association with the Master. Now that he was gone, who were they? Was the pain of their loss and disorientation so severe that they wondered why he had ever called them into companionship with him in the first place? The three days between crucifixion and resurrection must have seemed like an empty eternity.
However, through dying to what had been, they were being made ready to enter upon a whole new experience of being alive. Christ’s resurrection burst through locked doors and into their broken hearts. All they could do was allow themselves to be drawn forth out of their sorrow and loss into a new dimension of relationship with their risen Lord.
But then, the disciples are not left to linger in their new found joy. They immediately are sent forth with the Spirit of Christ within them. Their experience of resurrection impels them to live in their own lives the ministry of healing and reconciliation that had been at the heart of the earthly life and work of their Teacher.
This experience of being caught up into the dynamic of Christ’s death and resurrection was also the experience of that latter-day apostle, St. Paul. Though Paul had not personally walked the hills of Galilee with the other apostles, on the road to Damascus he experienced a profound psychic death. Indeed, he had to endure three days of blindness and disorientation before a trembling disciple by the name of Ananias, sent by the risen Christ, laid hands upon him and, in Christ’s name, restored his sight.
At that moment, Paul experienced a passage from death to life. The life into which he now passed was an entirely new one. The object of his fury and the focus of his persecution, namely Jesus, became the center of his very existence and his reason for being. From Paul’s letters we can see that his personal experience of dying and rising led him to see baptism as a symbolic burial with Christ and rising to new life.
Our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, and Christ’s intimate presence with us in our own dyings and risings, also has been associated with the passage of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the disorientation and privation of the wilderness into the freedom and fruitfulness of the Promised Land. They had to pass through the waters of the Red Sea – waters that prefigure the waters of baptism – into a season of uncertainty and unknowing as preparation for entering into a new mode of life and being.
The paschal mystery, which is the dynamic of death and resurrection, is a fundamental law of our human existence made plain in the person of Christ. We live this mystery not once but over and over again in the unfolding of our lives, often in the most mundane and seemingly unexceptional circumstances. It is not restricted to the realm of religion and we don’t have to look for it. It is simply a law of life. It overtakes, us and we find ourselves caught up in it.
At such moments, if we do not descend into a state of passive despondency, we may be tempted to seek after an explanation of what we are enduring in the hope that it will make things better and take away our pain. At such moments, Christ companions us, perhaps in ways of which we are not consciously aware, supplying the grace of endurance that allows us to bear the burden of the present moment, trusting that within death are buried the seeds of resurrection and new life.
As we celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter with all their drama and complexity, we are not simply trying to relive what happened in Jesus’ life. Rather, we are claiming as the truth of who we are the dynamic of our own dying and rising and our participation in the paschal mystery. The life and death of Jesus speak to us of our own cycles of dying and rising and supply us with the courage and capacity for endurance that make it possible for us to pass again and again from death to life.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my prayer that as we celebrate the paschal feast, we will dare to make the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins our own. May Christ indeed “Easter in us,” and “be a dayspring to the dimness of us.”