For forty days we have been in the process of Lent, trying our best to make sacrifices, to pray more fervently, to be more generous, and to do penance for our sin and that of the world. Nothing we have done, however, is equal to the price Jesus paid for us to have the salvation He offers. That should not make us feel guilty. On the contrary, the beauty of what He has done is in that very fact: there is nothing we can do that would ever be enough to equal the price He paid. Our efforts were and continue to be very important as we try to grow in holiness. But we do not earn salvation. He died for us because of love, not because of our guilt. That is indeed the unfathomable aspect of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as He came into the world out of love for us, He left the world as He did out of love for us. Nothing changed about the purpose of His life and His mission from start to finish. It was pure gift and this gift was always about love.
At the Easter Vigil we are reminded through the Scripture readings of the consistency of God’s loving actions. We are reminded of creation, which began in beauty but was marred by disobedience, and yet it was not a complete ruination. That is because rather than annihilating Adam and Eve, God continued to give the gift of life, though it was limited by physical mortality. He did not abandon them, but rather He stayed with them in the beautiful world He provided for them in the first place. He gave them the gift of childbirth, so that forever after we would marvel at the arrival of beautiful little people who we have the pleasure and the gift of raising into adulthood. God, in continuous desire for our happiness, blessed His people to become a great nation, even when time and again they abused His love by betraying His covenant. In all the readings of the liturgy we hear messages of hope and of the victories He won for His people.
What is it that propelled Jesus through death and into resurrection? What is it that will continue to be with us for the entirety of our lives as we go through our own suffering, passion, and death? And what will help us to rise with Him on the last day? The answer to each question is Love. What we are witnessing and what we are rejoicing in this Easter is the conquering of all that is not of God by love. However, we must remember that the work is not over quite yet. Jesus overcame death, but we are needed to continue His work in our imperfect world. He has given us what we need to overcome all that assails us, and that is the power of love and all that which love means.
Jesus’ saving act reminds us that He constantly re-creates, He constantly forgives sin, and He makes everything more beautiful. Everything that was dimmed during Lent is now afire with the glory of the Risen Lord. We need to remember that what Jesus did is beyond our understanding and our imagination; it was freely entered into and was accomplished by the toil and action of God alone. Everything takes on a new light given the power of His love which was released in a new way at Easter. Every detail of life is renewed and He has broken down all barriers, even entering into our loneliness and suffering in order to redeem it with the hope of healing and salvation. We are assured that He is with us in everything and will give us healing, even if not in this life.
Some of us may have great difficulty in feeling like rejoicing due to the circumstances of our lives. As long as we are here, suffering will be with us. It is clear that there is much in our world that is seemingly getting more broken by the minute and there is much that happens to us which causes pain. But what the resurrection assures for us is that 'this too shall pass,' and that during our time of travail we are never alone. God has fulfilled every promise He has ever made for us. It is not a matter of whether we deserve it, because surely we do not. But because of the resurrection of Jesus, we know that in the end He will fully overcome all evil, all sin, all suffering, all pain, and all that limits us. He left us not alone, but rather He is present in His Body and Blood to strengthen us as food for the entire way we need to travel. He gave us the cleansing water of baptism in which we receive the essential graces of faith, hope, and love in order to help us to circumnavigate the dangers of our world. He accompanies us through life with the many graces given to us, particularly in the gift of forgiveness so that we can be unencumbered by that which would keep us distant from him. With every sacrament, we participate in His resurrection anew. Let us rejoice, therefore, and be glad that we have this indescribably beautiful gift!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation, is sung at the Easter Vigil just after the Easter Candle has been lit and the church has gone from deepest darkness to blazing light. It is a very moving and breathtaking moment. The Exsultet is only sung once a year.
The painting at the top of the post is The Resurrection by Bl. Fra Angelico. Next is a photo I took at an Easter Vigil a few years ago. The next image is a painting of the three women at the tomb of Christ by German painter Peter von Cornelius. Following the painting is another of my photos of some wildflowers on a mountainside in Colorado. Finally is The Risen Christ, an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The icon can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-christ-william-hart-mcnichols.html.