Want to Really Experience Easter? Visit a Graveyard and Listen to Verdi.
We’re distracted. We’re busy. We’re fallen.
It’s a dogged, upstream swim, to try and recover the deep Christian meaning of holy days. Today, it takes disciplined effort to see past the colored eggs and chocolate rabbits.
To recall that an Easter Parade was once made up of believers who’d worn drab clothes all through Lent, now marching off in their best to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. In a church.
To resist the urge to scare the kids by nuking marshmallow peeps in the microwave this year. As you did last year…. (Okay, the look on their faces was worth it.)
Amidst the roasting hams and family chatter, it’s hard to step back and remember one fact.
Jesus’ rise from the tomb hacked another Grand Canyon into the world.
When Jesus Rose, He Split the World in Half
Today makes all the difference in the world. Jesus’ rise from the tomb hacked another Grand Canyon into the world. It’s the chasm that marks off what we believe from what the world does.
Take Easter away, and the atheist existentialists are right: Life is absurd. It’s not even a tragedy. It’s a farce. And a snuff farce at that, since the whole cast dies at the end. Cue Louie C.K. on Netflix.
Lose Easter and the hedonists are right: Pleasure is all that matters, and it won’t last for very long. So babies likely to suffer might as well be blotted out. They’re just going where we’re all headed: nowhere, but faster. Ask Pete Singer to pass the poison.
Skip Easter and the revolutionaries are right: The injustices of this world are unredeemed and irredeemable. You might as well spend your life raging against them. So slip on that Che t-shirt and stick it to The Man. Or join the alt-right and fight for your kin. Whatever floats your boat.
There’s no call to be smug that we don’t hold such dark superstitions. Each of us is just one day away from any one of them, or something worse. Today is that day.
We Did Nothing, Not One Thing to Earn This
The gift of faith boggles the mind. But then it orders it. It helps us to see things as they really, really are. We did nothing to earn this clarity. So again there’s no call to be smug. We’re like the villagers in a plague-riddled land whom Somebody thought to vaccinate.
We need to reclaim this sense of how weird and special faith is. That’s how we’ll know how to be grateful. It will goad our efforts to share it.
Go Visit a Graveyard. It’s Best to Be Prepared.
So here’s an idea. Go visit a graveyard. Before or after church, apart from family dinners, find one near you.
What better day than today to walk among the headstones of sinners just like yourself. They once trod the same earth you do. That Jesus did. The earth that He came to redeem, from its vast skies to its quiet places. Even its graves.
What better day than today to walk among the headstones of sinners just like yourself. They once trod the same earth you do. That Jesus did. The earth that He came to redeem.
Yesterday, Holy Saturday, He “descended into Hell.” By that the Creed doesn’t mean the prison that holds the souls of the damned. No, it’s the shadowy afterlife that faced Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses and Jeremiah. That was the best they could hope for, before Christ came to rescue them.
And today He blows down the doors of death.
What does that mean for tomorrow? For an answer, look around. It helps that you’re now standing in a cemetery. See all those graves? Those glorious marble tombs, or cheap little metal plates? To every grave on earth, from the pyramids in Egypt to Potters Fields full of nameless, forgotten hoboes, it will happen just the same.
A Universal Easter
At time’s end, we will see a universal Easter. Every grave will blow open like a kernel of sizzling popcorn. The world will yield up its dead. Every soul will be joined with its body, renewed and restored. But that’s not such good news for everyone.
The old Latin prayer for the dead, the Dies Irae, draws on St. John’s Apocalypse to tell us what comes next:
Hark! to the great trumpet’s tones
Pealing o’er the place of bones:
Hark! it waketh from their bed
All the nations of the dead,–
In a countless throng to meet,
At the eternal judgment seat.
Nature sickens with dismay,
Death may not retain its prey;
And before the Maker stand
All the creatures of his hand.
The great book shall be unfurled,
Whereby God shall judge the world;
What was distant shall be near,
What was hidden shall be clear.
If we were judged on merits, our fate would be plain:
Oh, in that destroying hour,
Source of goodness, Source of power,
Show thou, of thine own free grace,
Help unto a helpless race.
Though I plead not at thy throne
Aught that I for thee have done,
Do not thou unmindful be,
Of what thou hast borne for me:
Of the wandering, of the scorn,
Of the scourge, and of the thorn.
Jesus, hast thou borne the pain,
And hath all been borne in vain?
To really get the impact of this, you might want to hear how Verdi set it to music. When I last saw Verdi’s Requiem at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, it got a little awkward. Everyone else was just enjoying the gorgeous music. I was sobbing. It was all I could do not to stand up and yell: “You don’t get it, people. This is all really going to happen!”
The poem, the prayer, the music, finishes up like this:
Thou, whose dying blessing gave
Glory to a guilty slave:
Thou, who from the crew unclean
Didst release the Magdalene:
Shall not mercy vast and free,
Evermore be found in thee?
Father, turn on me thine eyes,
See my blushes, hear my cries;
Faint though be the cries I make,
Save me for thy mercy’s sake,
From the worm, and from the fire,
From the torments of thine ire.
Fold me with the sheep that stand
Pure and safe at thy right hand.
Hear thy guilty child implore thee,
Rolling in the dust before thee.
Oh the horrors of that day!
When this frame of sinful clay,
Starting from its burial place,
Must behold thee face to face.
Hear and pity, hear and aid,
Spare the creatures thou hast made.
Mercy, mercy, save, forgive,
Oh, who shall look on thee and live?
And that’s what Easter means to me.
Holy Week at The Stream
For Palm Sunday: Deacon Keith Fournier’s Holy Week: Now It Begins, Now It All Begins
For Holy Week: Jennifer Hartline’s Has God Finally Met His Match?
For Holy Week: David Limbaugh’s Good News and the Gospels
For Maundy Thursday: David Mills’sWhy Jesus Washed the Apostles’ Feet, and Why We Do It Too
For Good Friday: Deacon Keith Fournier’s The Connection Between Good Friday and the Church
For Good Friday: John Zmirak’s Have a Bleak and Blessed Good Friday
For Good Friday:: Anika Smith’s Man of Sorrows, Carry Our Grief
For Holy Saturday: Liberty McArtor’s God’s Ongoing Story is Full of the Unexpected
For Easter day: Esther O’Reilly’s Not Without Witness: An Easter Reflection
For Easter day: David Mills’s Did Jesus Rise? The Extreme Apostle Says Yes, the More Extreme Atheist Says No