Easter has come, Easter our only hope.
In the two weeks preceding Easter, I was busy clearing the back yard of all its autumn debris. As I was working, I thought about the dear people I have known who passed away in recent years. Some of them died in peace, while some did not go gently into the night. They left holes in many hearts, but none of them are here to witness the new spring arrive.
My list is much longer now than 10 years ago. It includes three brave women who lost the battle to cancer far too early in their lives, leaving children behind. It includes a young resident doctor who treated my newborn son, and died of cancer before my son turned one. It includes three dear family friends, and a brilliant classmate. It includes a fellow parishioner who was probably lonely in life, but who was accompanied in his last days by the Knights of Columbus. It also includes my dear grandfather, the gentle giant, my Pole Star.
It seems somehow unjust that life should continue on so innocently, as if no great tragedy occurred at the passing of these good people. We may mourn but spring has sprung, cheekily oblivious to the personal misfortune of poor mortals. Hosts of crocuses pop up on the lawn, Canada geese honk happily overhead, and bunnies, robins and even raccoons are visiting our back yard in mating pairs. Children frolic in muddy puddles. All is hope and joy.
But I stand back. I wonder, where are all those people now, who have preceded me to the unknown abyss?
My grandfather was a Legionary of Mary and spent his days living close to Christ. He was not afraid of death. After his catastrophic stroke he lingered on for a few days unable to speak and nearly paralysed. If he was aware then he surely believed he was about to enter the arms of his Creator.
Did he truly enter that celestial embrace?
Only Easter gives me that hope. Life without Easter is so painful that it is unthinkable. If Christ didn't resurrect, then there is no hope for our afterlife. Without Easter, we are no more than animated dust, alive for just minutes before we sink back into the earth as if we never existed. Without Easter we are mere animals, and there is no justice in the world from above. The world is a cruel madness, the most vicious and aggressive truly do get ahead and the meek and humble are fools.
We need Easter so badly. But does our need for a resurrection make it true?
Obviously not. This is the point at which hope, like a caterpillar, builds a chrysalis and emerges as faith.
We cannot know for certain what happened on Calvary two thousand years ago. There are some good arguments to support our faith in the resurrection. But in the end, we must still choose to believe something we do not really know. Sometimes that may not be easy, and there may be more hope than faith.
I look at the cross, the symbol that says so much. Life is suffering, death is suffering. The cross is a symbol of brutal death, and yet it is also a symbol of hope after death. If there is anything beyond this miserable, short life, then the cross is our only door to that new life in God.
I say that because to me, all other religions are not nearly convincing enough. I can't believe in reincarnation, or in other weird concoctions that are transparently irrational and man-made. My only hope is Christianity because it is in accord with human reason and experience, and because the teachings of the Catholic Church are so profound and complex that they appear to surpass human ability to fabricate. We just aren't capable of creating a system so vast, which contains such wisdom, rationality and insight into human nature.
To this day we do not fully understand the depths of the Bible and we are still discovering new ways in which it is applicable and true. Christianity continues to teach us about ourselves and make us better people. So I do believe that if the Creator of the world (which did not come from nothing) chose to reveal his incredible self to us, then he did so through Christianity.
Faith is hard. Especially in this scientific-rational age, it is tough to go by faith. We expect facts. We expect evidence. We expect conclusive proof.
But the curtain remains drawn. What happens after death remains an elusive mystery. We get some rumours, we get some whispers, idle speculation. How can anyone really know, unless they have been there? The empty tomb of Jesus remains a wildly daring promise unparalleled in history.
The empty tomb. A promise of new life, new hope. The promise that when we die, we are more than dry leaves fallen into the ground. We are not mere autumn debris to burn or throw on the compost pile. At our death, we will be born anew into the arms of God.
Is this why Easter happens in the spring?
Photo credits: First photo- Linh H. Nguyen via photopin cc. Second photo- koadmunkee via photopin cc, Third photo- Julia Folsom via photopin cc.