We are an Easter people. We live our lives in light of the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore during these seven weeks of Easter (and beyond) we remember that all we do is affected by the fact that Jesus died and rose so that we might have life to the fullest (John 10:10 and Luke 6:38). This is not really just a season we observe, but rather a way of life for all those who believe. In whatever way we envision the resurrection we know it was something that took place in wondrous beauty because it was the release of the greatest power on earth which is love. I have imagined that when Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus at the tomb, or when He appeared to His mother, (not mentioned in Scripture), these events took place in the beauty of a perfect day, in the cool of the morning. It was not in stillness, but in the sounds of the world at its best. This is how I envision it, but no matter what it was like, there truly was no more perfect day than that one. The resurrection made life beautiful.
Recently I heard a song with the title “Life is Beautiful” which is part of the inspiration for this reflection. Though the song is about a man’s love for a woman who clearly makes his life more beautiful, it made me think that it could also be a song of love for God. The refrain says: “Life is beautiful, life is wondrous, every star above is shining just for us; life is beautiful, on a stormy night, somewhere in the world the sun is shining bright.” * The composer had me at “life is wondrous.” In light of the resurrection life is indeed wondrous. We have received the greatest gifts of mercy, compassion, and love in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection conquered sin and death and opened the way to salvation for us. Therefore on a stormy night the light is indeed with us. Even if we cannot see it we know this because of the gift of faith. Life is wondrous!
Life is a great gift to be savored and enjoyed. But sometimes we may feel a bit ambivalent like St. Paul when he said, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23) However - (and it is an important “however”) - Paul goes on to say that while he wishes to be with Christ in Heaven, he realizes that he has work to do and that this work is his calling. Therefore as much as he longs for heaven, he has a purpose, and therefore he chooses life in order to serve God and to spread the faith.
St. Paul was suffering imprisonment when he wrote those words. He had some physical ailments as well as the suffering that came with being in a prison; therefore we know that it was a time in which he had much pain. Yet Paul recognized that life was a beautiful gift, so that as much as he longed for a cessation of his suffering, and as much as he had an even deeper desire to simply be with Jesus whom he loved so deeply, he knew that God had called him to bring others to Christ. Therefore he could embrace all that life brought because of faith, hope, and love. It was not a burden for him necessarily because Paul really did love life. How could anyone who had an encounter with the risen Christ, such as he did on the road to Damascus, not see life as transformed by love? Paul saw the beauty of the world even in the midst of the sin and corruption around him. This was because he saw the world in light of the resurrection and everything was suffused in that light. Life was wondrous for him.
Like St. Paul we are a people who live in light of the resurrection. It was not an event that happened long ago and which we simply remember. It was an action that transformed the entirety of creation, giving a beauty that transcends what we see or feel. The beauty of the resurrection contains elements that we can only fully appreciate after we pass through this life and are in the next when all is revealed to us. But even so, the beauty that permeates everything has the power to let us see beyond what our eyes perceive, what our ears hear, what our minds reason, and what our hearts feel. It is the beauty of life transformed by a love so great that the tomb could not hold it. It is a life transformed by mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and healing. It is a life that now holds hope, the promise of things to come which were not available to us prior to Jesus bursting forth from the grave.
I know some of us are still waiting for Easter joy because of suffering in our lives or in the lives of those whom we love. In many ways all of us are still waiting for the fullness of Easter joy because of the suffering of the world, with its injustice, corruption, sin, terror, and disease. But we have been promised that sorrow and mourning will flee and that suffering will be no more. (Isaiah 35:1-7,10) The resurrection strengthens our resolve because God’s promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and therefore we have renewed faith and hope that we will have the final victory through Him in the end. We did not have that hope before Jesus came, taught us, healed many, loved all, died and rose. That the Son of God went through it all ought to be enough, but it was not done simply to impress us. He did it so that in His great love we may be healed and set free. He did it so that life would be more wondrous than ever before because now we always have a vision of things to come before our spiritual eyes.
As we hear the Gospel readings and those from the Acts of the Apostles, let us be there within these stories, allowing ourselves to see the wonders of the risen Christ immediately after His resurrection and to experience how this event propelled the infant church into vibrant life. We need to let our imagination work with the Scripture so as to pick up the beauty with which the apostles saw the world after the resurrection and Pentecost events. When we are at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus, even after mistaking Him for the gardener, we should say with wonder, “I have seen the Lord!” because we have. When Peter and John healed a cripple in the street we need to let our eyes grow large with wonder. When we sing our ‘Alleluias’ we should do so knowing that sorrow and mourning fled for those early followers of Jesus whose lives seemed bleak due to oppression and were now filled with the promise and hope of new life in Christ! We, too, have that same promise, that same hope.
Perhaps we need to ask the Holy Spirit to enliven our minds and hearts anew with the grace of the mystery and power of the Risen Christ. If we desire this, we will have it. This grace will help us to see beauty where others do not. It will help us to see beyond the visual to the reality of what is beneath the surface. This grace will help us to know that no matter how menial our daily tasks are, or no matter how overwhelming they may seem that like St. Paul we have a call and a purpose. This grace will help us to move outwards towards others in ways we may not have thought possible. All this because of a power called love. It will enable us to see all of life in the light of the resurrection, transforming the entire world into the realm of beauty, redemption, and mercy. There is no stain that cannot be removed, there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, and there is nothing which is beyond hope, even if we do not see it readily. What we do have is the promise which we trust in because everything is permeated with the resurrected Christ. All we have to do is open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, and our arms to embrace this gift. Then we will see that life is beautiful. Life is wondrous. Life is a miracle, bathed in beauty. Why? Because He who was once dead, now lives. Life is wondrous!
May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the wonders of the Risen Lord! May we have a renewal of the faith, hope, and love given to us in baptism so that we may trust in the Lord’s promises to us! May we see the world as it is, filled with wonder and beauty which cannot be overcome by darkness no matter how it may appear to us! May we be filled with the courage to see as Jesus sees and to love as He loves! And may we have the joy which comes from the resurrection of Jesus, savoring the gift of life such as it is! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Lord! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The song Life is Beautiful is by a blues artist, Keb' Mo'. For the lyrics to the song click here: http://www.lyricsmania.com/life_is_beautiful_lyrics_keb_mo_1.html
-To hear the song click here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI_GNu8jaSA&spfreload=10 (I apologize if an ad pops up first. I have no control over that.)
The first painting is The Resurrection by Matthias Grunewald. It is part of the Isenheim Altarpiece. Next is the icon The Risen Christ Appears to His Mother by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/56-the-risen-christ-appears-to-his-mother
The photograph is one of mine, some lavender in a garden. This is followed by a painting by Bl. Fra Angelico called Nolo Me Tangere, depicting Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb encountering Jesus on resurrection morning.
Heart Speaks to Heart