Christ is risen!
Despite our best efforts as believers, it is often hard to see the glory for the gloom. For large numbers of unemployed in this country, hope may seem dim. Likewise, the people of Haiti, who have been suffering through an extended Good Friday, may well feel fated to disaster. For Catholics in Ireland and Germany, after revelations in recent weeks of sexual abuse of children there, signs of new life may likewise be hard to see.
But as the Easter Gospels relate, it took time too for Jesus’ disciples to come to see the Easter light. In Luke’s Gospel Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James visit the tomb of Jesus “at daybreak.” According to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene went alone “early in the morning, while it was still dark.” Probably only the palest of dawns guided their feet, as they made their way to the tomb. The dimness of the light did not deter the women from rushing to devoutly tend to their Lord.
Often it is difficult for us, too, to see what lies ahead in our lives. The past is shrouded in darkness and the way ahead still heavy with shadows. When will a job come? Will it mean starting over in a new field, entail new training and relocation? After the spreading sexual abuse crisis, can we ever feel as confident that the church will be for us the spotless bride of Christ, an unsullied source of grace? Can the faithful continue to regard bishops as our pastors without their publicly taking responsibility for the failures of supervision that in many cases made the crisis much worse? In frustration and disillusionment, we strain to see; our vision is impaired.
For most of us, even for saints, puzzlement is entwined with faith. In Luke’s Gospel the women peer into the tomb and are “puzzling over” what they see before an angel appears to clear things up. Later, when Peter and “the other disciple” reach the tomb, Peter also seems confused. Only the disciple whom Jesus loved “saw and believed.” Our days, and often our Easters, are marked by a similar confusion and moments of unbelief. If the Easter proclamation “Christ is risen!” does not leave us completely unmoved, it leaves our hearts still longing to overflow with the joy we do not quite feel. Why can’t we be like the disciple John, loving so much that we believe at the sight of the empty tomb? Why must we be like Peter, understanding so slowly and then impulsively moving from doubt to faith?
The disciples repeatedly misapprehend the risen Lord. Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener; and on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, the disciples’ “eyes were kept from recognizing him.” In the Upper Room he appears like a ghost, suddenly and inexplicably standing in their midst. Resurrection exceeds our capacity to comprehend it. Like the disciples, even when confronted with vivid signs of new life, we sometimes fail to understand. Applying for jobs, we become frustrated. Confronted with yet another disaster, we find ourselves overcome with donor fatigue. The repeated narration of the sad facts of sexual abuse wears us down.
Yet even in the midst of dimness, confusion and misunderstanding, men and women of faith can glimpse signs of new life. Darkness, shadow and gloom need not come between us and the Lord. In his new book, Made for Goodness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that “every act of kindness enhances the quality of life.” There is good news in that the world has averted a depression and unemployment has begun to abate. It should be heartening, too, that after so many catastrophes, Haiti still engages the world’s commitment. Undeterred by decades of failed experiments, the leading donor nations are undertaking together a long-term reconstruction program for that sorely tested Caribbean nation. Here at home a growing number of young people, even if they are not yet in church pews every Sunday, are doing the work of the church in service programs for the poor.
Some sunlight has even begun to pierce the mushroom cloud. The Obama administration has made elimination of nuclear weapons a long-term goal of American policy, and the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations has declared that “the conditions that prevailed during the cold war, which gave a basis for the church’s limited toleration of nuclear weapons, no longer apply.” He reiterated Pope Benedict XVI’s call for “a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament.”
Around us are signs of new life; we have only to see them to experience the glory of the risen Lord penetrating the shadows of our lives. If Haiti’s earthquake survivors emerged from the rubble singing God’s praises, how can we not chant “Alleluia!” for the signs of new life we encounter when we hear the Easter salutation, “Christ is risen!”?