Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday to Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday's message of hope has been obscured
John Waters
Irish Times, Friday 21st March 2008

TODAY IS the darkest day, the day that is all night. It is a remarkable commentary on the power of a Catholic childhood that, despite the movability of the feast and the social changes that have rendered Good Friday largely indistinguishable from other days, at 3pm today it will grow dark all around my head.

In ways beyond metaphor, the clouds will gather and the sun shrivel away. Even if I should find myself sitting in Starbucks in the Dundrum Town Centre, I will shiver a little and feel bereft. The death of the Saviour will assert itself as the remembrance of a real event and I will experience the horror all over again. This is the power of culture.

Remarkably, Easter Sunday does not for me have an equivalent religious power. Somehow, the meaning of Easter, as I have apprehended it, seems to derive more from myth than history. My impression, born of the same culture, is that Easter represents a lifting of the shadow of the Crucifixion, but only in the sense that I feel permitted to cast off the sackcloth and embrace the spring, to live again in the world with a sense of undeserved reprieve.

It's my favourite time, but mainly because it brings this sense of release and relief. I may have caused Christ to be crucified, but somehow He has gotten me off the hook. Whereas Good Friday is unambiguously religious, Easter Sunday in our culture feels more like a secular feast, a celebration of the fact that we have shaken off the guilt and gloom of religion. The chocolate eggs accentuate this feeling: a corrupted symbol of rebirth that diverts rather than deepens meaning.
A couple of years ago, talking to a Puerto Rican priest with an acute gift for simplicity, I found myself embarrassedly asking if he could explain to me the core meaning of Christianity.
He urged me not to feel bad, since about 95 per cent of Christians do not understand Christianity either. He said that, a short time before, while lecturing in a Catholic seminary in the US, he had been approached by a young man, about to be ordained, who asked him a related but more specific question. He wanted to know the meaning of the Resurrection.

The priest took him to a graveyard and picked a grave at random. The headstone indicated that a man named Daniel was buried there. What, the priest asked the young seminarian, do we know of Daniel?
The young man shrugged. We know, said the priest, that Daniel is dead; that his body is inert, his mind a void; that, even if we were to bring 20 dancing girls and have them cavort around his grave, Daniel would continue to display a radical disinterest in reality.
On the evening of that first Good Friday, he went on, this is how it was with Jesus. But then, 40 hours later, something happened that would change everything. Jesus came back to life. Let us be clear, he emphasised, Jesus began to breathe again, grew warm, started to move, re-engaged with reality, became interested in things around Him. Having been as dead as Daniel, He became, once again, as alive as we are.
This, too, is history.

This, he told me, is both the meaning of the Resurrection and the central idea of Christianity: that death has no dominion, that beyond the end there is a new beginning. Christianity, he said, is the announcement to the world of the death of death.

In 50 years of immersion in a Catholic culture, I never heard it put like that. Although none of the story was new, I had never before quite grasped its meaning. In a life spent in Catholic churches and schools, reading Catholic periodicals, nobody had ever succeeded in communicating to me that the central message of Christianity is about hope beyond human imagining.
If you had put me on the spot to explain the core of Christian belief, I would have mumbled something about Jesus dying for our sins. Why? Not sure. I had a strong sense that I was responsible for the death of Jesus, and very little that I was entitled to feel anything other than undeserved relief about Him rising again.

I don't think it's just me. Something in the kind of Christianity we have inherited suggests that the point is to feel bad mostly, but occasionally to celebrate because, though we are unworthy, God is merciful and good.

In its constant reiteration of rules, the Catholic Church has seemed to forget that there is a need to tell people why, rather than out of blind obedience and a perverse desire to be told how to live their lives, they might want to listen to its message.

Very often those who are the voices of the Church fail to emphasise the most important part: that once in history, 2,000 years ago, God came to earth as a man to demonstrate that death is a myth born of the limited human imagination.© 2008 The Irish Times


Maureen said...

What a fine message of hope I must share this with a young person who is losing faith in the Church and who is having a difficult time trying to get a job even though he is a qualified nurse.

revpicard said...

John is certainly being prompted by the Spirit these days! Long may it continue!!

I was struck by some words on RTE Radio 1 on Good Friday around 12pm, that people (and the Irish in particular) have more of a bond with Good Friday than easter Sunday because we relate more easily to suffering than to Joy.

Certainly in the world of Eggs, Bunny Rabbits and Shopping on Easter Sunday, lasting Joy is in short supply.

Maybe we can identify with the words of the Easter morning Gospel, that "until that moment (when they saw the empty grave and the cloths lying on the ground) the disciples had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead".

As I told the congregation - The understanding is developing... but we don't have to understand (fully)to believe; Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. When they said, “We have seen the Lord”, he answered, “Unless I can see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes that the nails made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to them:

“You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

(John 20:24-29)