Along with the sheer beauty of the gift, the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus is in knowing that because He lives everyone is ‘redeemable’ and the deepest woundedness of every person can be healed. Jesus has ensured that there is nothing we can do that is beyond redemption: through His compassion everything can be healed, through His mercy the poor decisions we have made can be reversed, and through His Easter victory our sinful nature can and will be redeemed. We can say emphatically that all baptized believers will have eternal life with God because Jesus lives. By dying and rising He transformed the power of death into a pathway to life forever. However, an important distinction we must make if we are to truly let Easter be transformative is that our focus has to go beyond the path He offers us, great as that is, and it must even go beyond what we have gained in His dying and rising. As incredibly important as these are, our focus must be on Jesus, the Risen Son of God: He will illumine the path and He alone offers the gift of new life, so our unwavering focus must be upon Jesus the Christ! This is because Easter is about love and love is about God. Thus, if we truly want to experience lasting Easter joy, our focus must always be on Jesus so that we never confuse the Giver with the gift. True Easter joy is always rooted in this Love.
The first thing we do at Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, is to praise. We finally say ‘Alleluia’ after omitting it during our Lenten observance. Beginning with the Easter Vigil, we sing and exclaim it ‘from the rafters’ of our churches, expressing our joy in knowing Jesus has triumphed over evil, sin, and death. The liturgy places our focus squarely on Jesus, as well it should; He is the Messiah who fulfilled the mission for which He was born, glorifying His Father who has kept His covenant as promised ‘from of old.’ And in reflection upon His ministry and the gospel He taught, we can see that He repeatedly reminded the apostles to stop focusing on self and to turn their gaze outward, so as to never lose sight of Jesus. It was when they took their eyes off Him that they floundered. A great example of this was when Peter got out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus. As long as he focused on Jesus, he was fine. But the minute he thought about what he was doing, shifting the focus to himself and away from the Lord, he began to sink. Similarly, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter was so focused on himself that it led to a devastating betrayal of everything he held dear. He had so distanced himself from Jesus that upon realization of what he had done, he wept bitterly. In the process of his sorrow he shifted his focus back to Jesus, and thus was able to seek and accept the forgiveness he knew was there. Transformed by Mercy and Love, Peter was healed, fully embracing his mission as leader of the Church.
In stark contrast to Peter, what made the sin of Judas so bad was that it was enmeshed in ego. He either felt like he knew better than Jesus, leading him to make a devastatingly misguided attempt at pushing Him to reveal His true identity, or he was indeed simply a self-promoting thief looking to make (the equivalent of) 'a few bucks' at the expense of a friend. Either way, the betrayal was rooted in self. But he compounded the sin by getting stuck there: focusing only on his sin and his wretchedness, he left no room in his own vision to focus on God or His merciful love. The result was that as one still loved by God and thus, redeemable, he chose not to accept it or have his sin healed because he had blocked everything but himself out of his thoughts. Remaining on the trajectory of destruction begun with the betrayal, he hung himself. Had he looked to God rather than immersing in self, he would have found the same Easter joy and new life found by Peter. Therefore, we see that it is essential that we keep focused on Jesus, accepting His love and mercy throughout our lives.
Easter is a time of joyous praise and gratitude. Our hymns praise God and proclaim our awe; we confidently declare, “The Lord is at my side – I do not fear!” The Scriptures point out how the apostles kept their focus on the reality of Jesus and His triumphant love, and so became an example of how we must live. Once the fervor of Easter week fades, however, it is important that we continue to keep our eyes on Jesus so that we do not revert to focusing on ourselves. The less we focus on self, the greater our faith becomes, (since faith is a focus on God); the temptation to worry then begins to lose its power over us and we are empowered in our efforts to move outward either in service or simply in friendship. Less focus on self also fosters humility and sanctity, thwarting the enemy’s attempts to point out our weaknesses so that we remain in darkness rather than light. Jesus triumphed by shattering the darkness and illuminating it with the radiance of His love. In this Easter light we see ourselves through His eyes, accepting both our giftedness and our weaknesses, asking for the grace to grow, and glorifying God as we accept His love in spite of our brokenness. Only in the light can healing and growth take place: Jesus rose from the dead in the morning, His light shattering the darkness, and the newness of morning bringing new life and opportunity for grace to heal and sanctify.
Throughout John’s Gospel the author equates light, truth, belief, and life. He states that Jesus is the Light of the world, illuminating the darkness. He reveals that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, bringing us onto the path of holiness through His teaching which illuminates love and brings clearer insights into God and His ways. He teaches that belief, (intellectual acceptance of the message accompanied by sincerely living it in our actions), connects us with the Triune God. And all of this is to say that if we accept that Jesus is these things, and live as His disciples, we will have life eternal. Once again, the focus is on Jesus and not on the gift. In short, the message of this gospel, echoed at Easter, can be summed up in that one well-known verse: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him… might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Thus, the entirety of salvation history, culminating joyfully in the great Easter triumph of Jesus, boils down to God’s love for us. He stopped at nothing to save us, opening the gates of Heaven; and as if this was not enough, He continues to illumine the path so that we may enter in one day. That is where our attention needs to be fixed. True, it is indeed about us; that is, because of His great love, God’s focus is always on us. But if we truly reflect upon this love, unfathomable as it is, we will be like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus whose hearts were burning within them as they walked with Jesus. And like them we will move outward to share it with others, since a love such as this, cannot be contained.
Thus, Easter joy propels us ever outward to share the gift with our brothers and sisters no matter who they are. Knowing that Jesus has prepared the path and that His resurrection overcomes all sin and death, our call is to express this joy so that others may know Him, too. If we live in Easter joy, our love becomes a beacon to those in need, especially those who are lonely, ill, imprisoned, in despair, marginalized, or who are treated like strangers, so that they may come to understand all can be reversed, all can be healed, and all can be redeemed through the love and saving power of Jesus. The joy we share is in knowing that we can never lose the gifts God is offering; it is in knowing we can never lose His love or our access to the graces He gives; it is in knowing we can never lose His mercy and forgiveness; and it is in knowing that we will spend eternity with Him. But most of all, it is in knowing, as St. Paul says, “We are now clothed in Christ,” enveloped with Love beyond all telling. (Colossians 3:9-12) Let us rejoice and give praise, always keeping our focus on Jesus, who leads us in the way of mercy, peace, healing, and love, so that one day we may enjoy the fullness of the Kingdom forever.
May we be filled with Easter joy! May we be moved to praise and expressions of gratitude for so great a gift! May we always keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus! May we find the presence of Jesus in others so that as we fight against the temptation to fixate on self, we might find Him through our service of others! May we continue to find guidance in the words of Jesus as found in the gospels, and on His presence to us in our prayer! And may we continue to grow into the people God created us to be: Easter people! Let us meet at the empty tomb of Christ, saying with the holy ones, “He is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!” Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post will be May 6.
1. Christ in Limbo, (circa 1450, cell 31 of the cloister, Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy) painted by Blessed Fra Angelico (circa 1450): I chose this painting because of all the imagery it contains. In busting down the door of Sheol, (the place of the dead) Jesus has crushed the devil who symbolically lies beneath it. However, there are still some demons lurking in the left side corner who are too frightened to come near. I wonder if the face peering out with those demons is that of Judas who chose death over life, (perhaps a point to ponder.) The holy ones who have waited so long are now being freed to enter into Heaven with Jesus. (See Matthew 27:51-53)
2. Sunrise Over the Red Sea: I chose this photo (not one of mine!) because of the magnificence of it, but also because it is a sunrise over similar waters as those on which Peter attempted to walk. He was on the Sea of Galilee, but after he focused on himself instead of Jesus, the waters no doubt seemed to him as if they were similarly roiling.
3. This is one of my photos, a black and white rendering of a pathway at Lost Maples Natural area in the hill country of Texas. I decided to go with the black and white version of my original color photo for the contrast between the path of redemption chosen by Peter with the bleak path chosen by Judas. There is a path on the left, and a dry creek bank on the right. Judas did not choose the correct path, and so he perished.
4. The Risen Jesus, icon written by Fr. William Hart McNichols: I have always loved this icon of Jesus surrounded by light, hands raised in a blessing of peace. Even though the subjects never smile in icons, (since they are not meant to be like portraits) I can still see the love and joy in His eyes, and perhaps the hint of a smile in His expression: this icon does 'spark joy.' If you would like to purchase a copy you can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-christ-014-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5. Red, Mark Rothko: This painting speaks to me of resurrection and the dawn of a new day. It is as if the gold light is bursting at the seams of the red; the red hue cannot hold it in, just as death cannot hold Jesus within its grasp.
6. Resurrection, a panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grünewald (1510-15): This is my favorite resurrection painting. There is no other image (in my opinion) which captures the light of Christ like this one. The Risen Jesus is aglow with light, reminiscent of and greater than, that of the Transfiguration. He is pushing back the darkness, in complete victory. His face is dazzling. Alleluia!
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart