Many years ago I had occasion to travel to the beautiful city of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. While there I happened to visit one of the art museums. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but what was most memorable was an enormous painting which hung at the top of the stairs on the second floor landing depicting Jesus victoriously bursting forth from the tomb. I remember standing at the foot of the stairs, awe-struck, for some time: it seemed as if I was actually at the tomb at the moment Jesus emerged. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of who the artist was, though I believe it was a Canadian, and even with numerous online attempts to find this painting, I have never been successful. However, the experience is etched into my consciousness, even if I cannot remember the details of this particular painting. What I do remember is that the figure of Jesus Christ, surrounded by light, appeared to be radiantly happy. He was looking out into the world as if to say that He was ecstatic because His mission was accomplished so that we might live. That is, the painting made me realize that the total reality of the Resurrection is not only about Jesus and what He did, but it was about what He did for us. It was and is always about us, His dearly beloved friends. He died and rose for us! He died to offer us mercy, yes, but also to offer comfort for our afflictions, as well as the unfading promise that we will have joy in the Kingdom with Him forever because He indeed conquered sin and death. In short, the resurrection is about hope.
In his Easter Urbi et Orbi Pope Francis centered his remarks on hope. He said: “[Hope] is a different ‘contagion,’ a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is arisen!” This hope is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not ‘bypass’ suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.” Pope Francis’ comments took me back to the painting in Toronto. What gave me such a visceral reaction at the time I experienced it was that the painting spoke of the power of God, and thus it spoke of hope. It also reminded me that I can revisit my reaction to a painting of which I can no longer completely visualize its unique qualities, but which was a real experience; my memory and imagination, fueled by hope, allow me to envision Jesus in the joy of His Resurrection. In other words, we did not have to be present at the Resurrection of Jesus to experience the joy and the hope, and indeed the fullness, of that event. It is as real now as ever: all we have to do is place ourselves at the empty tomb and we are indeed there. The reality of it will never change.
This is similar to the ‘distancing’ we are experiencing regarding our worship. We are not physically in the space where we normally gather, yet our prayer joins our faith family together, uniting us to Christ and to one another. Further, that we are physically elsewhere does not mean the reality of what goes on there, or our connection to one another, changes. Remember, no one living today was present at any of the events recorded in the Scriptures and yet that does not change their reality or the lessons and graces we receive because of them. Their reality was not contingent upon our presence, but it is our faith and hope in them which enables us to receive the benefits of what God has already done. Just as my experience with the painting I cannot fully remember has had a lasting effect upon me, so too do the events of salvation history have lasting effects upon God’s people. As St. Paul said, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) In this truth, then, lies the hope we receive at Easter: when we are with Jesus in Heaven at the end of our earthly lives, we will be one in a new way, no longer bound by the division between the physically alive and those already in Heaven. We will see not indistinctly as we do now, but clearly: our longing for Jesus now will be completely filled then. Thus, our longing, even the pain of it, is a sign of our hope and our trust in Him, and it is a foretaste of things to come. We are all one In Christ: we are all in this together. And in our acceptance of doing what we must rather than what we want, we are acknowledging that salvation is not something we can accomplish on our own, but it is our future: Christ has done it for us. Yes, it was all for us. Christ our hope is arisen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
May we be filled with Easter hope, trusting that Jesus has indeed conquered sin and death, and that our future awaits in unimaginable joy and glory with Him forever! May we persevere through this difficult time, praying for patience, for those who are suffering to have the hope offered by Christ, and for an end to all that which separates us from one another! And may we continue to reach out to our brothers and sisters in word and deed, bringing the light of the Risen Christ through our love for them! Let us meet in joy at the empty tomb of Christ our Hope! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1.Fresco, inset of the Risen Christ from Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb, by Blessed Fra Angelico. This fresco is in cell 8, within the Convento San Marco, Florence, Italy, the Dominican residence where Bl. Fra Angelico lived with his community. Of course this is not the painting I saw in Toronto, but Jesus was in this posture, holding the same victory banner.
2. My photo, taken in the Rose Gardens in Portland Oregon. If you look closely you will see a bee in the middle of the central flower. The bee reminds me of the line in the Exsultet (sung at the Easter Vigil) with its reference to the candle being the work of bees.
3. My photo, taken in Sant' Eufemia Church in Verona, Italy. This empty church building seemed appropriate given what our churches are like at this time. Our churches are beautiful, but are even more beautiful filled with the community!
4. My photo of an icon which sits on my desk, The Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is saving those who were in the tomb, if you look to His hands.
Heart Speaks to Heart