The fresco of Resurrection in church kostel Svateho Cyrila Metodeje probably by František Sequens

The 50 Days of Easter – Rejoice!

When I last posted near the beginning of Lent, it seemed hard to believe that the great and venerable season was already upon us. Now, I can hardly believe it has ended and we are once more entering into the Easter season. While some of us, myself regrettably included, may not have met all the goals we set for ourselves this Lent, I think it’s time we humbly embrace this Easter joy. Let us give God as much room as we possibly can to bring the rich blessings into our lives that He intends to bring.

It never escapes my attention that while the Church prompts us to observe 40 days of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and a particular emphasis on the redemptive value of suffering, she celebrates and rejoices in the glory and majesty of Christ’s victory over suffering and the grave for 50 days!

The Crown of Thorns must come before the Crown of Glory, it’s true—but the Crown of Glory will come, rest assured. Easter presents us with a tangible foretaste of the ultimate truth that God is the victor, and Heaven is the goal for which we must always aim. As in my Lenten article, I can’t resist the urge to share some thoughts in the form of a little acrostic, this time with some Easter encouragement:

  • Remember what Jesus has done for you
  • Imitate Him (don’t just “impersonate)
  • Serve others
  • Eagerly await the Parousia

Remember what Jesus has done for you

In the Mass we always hear that line echoing Luke 22, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The full Greek phrase is τουτο ποιειτε εις την εμην αναμνησιν, which literally means “this you are to do in remembrance of me.” It does NOT mean what some flimsy translations suggest: “When you do this, remember me.” This is far more profound and its Eucharistic and Paschal significance can’t possibly be unpacked here. (See books like Dr. Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper for more.)

Suffice it to say that the “remembering” we are encouraged, even commanded, by God to do on a regular basis has much more substance and significance than casually recalling events in our past. I’m increasingly convinced that the daily requirements of the Gospel on my life are inseparably intertwined with a constant awareness of, appreciation for, and earnest assent to an incomprehensibly dramatic, ever ancient, ever new story of which I have been blessed with a small part. The real shock comes when you realize there are no “small” parts.

History is HIS-story! Jesus is the central character, and everything somehow relates to Him. His shadow is cast backwards into the Old Testament and gradually becomes unmistakable to the person who has been given eyes to see. Everything anticipates Him somehow. His shadow is cast forward through the New Testament era to our own and beyond. There is literally no corner of reality that does not somehow rest upon His foundation.

When we are happy and things are going well for us, we ought to remember Jesus and thank Him for making it possible. When we are miserable, depressed, brokenhearted, defeated, weary from suffering and feel like giving up, we ought to remember Jesus and thank Him for permitting us to experience His own suffering with confident hope that on the other side of this, our Calvary, an open and empty tomb awaits us.

Imitate Him (don’t just impersonate)

One thing I’ve been pretty good at for as long as I can remember is mimicry. I’m especially good at celebrity impressions and singing karaoke tunes close in style to the original performers. From Christopher Walken to Arnold Schwarzenegger to various famous cartoon characters, I somewhat routinely get laughs from folks through these moments of “channeling” some beloved personage or character. It’s a talent I’ve always enjoyed and one that I’ve developed quite a bit over the years.

One noteworthy and rather unexpected insight this part of my life has brought me is the subtle difference between imitation and impersonation. While there is some debate over these terms, I like to think of it this way: impersonation means pretending to be someone I’m not—imitation means authentically, sincerely following someone else’s lead as closely as possible.

Far too often in our spiritual lives, we fall into a pattern of attempting to impersonate Jesus. You’ll see this sometimes with enthusiastic, believing young men attempting to grow out their hair, grow beards, and wear sandals to be more like Jesus. (CONFESSION: I’ve done some of these things myself.) Others may take more drastic actions. But we should remember that grace builds upon and perfects nature—it doesn’t override it or supplant it.

Our Lord made you to be someone completely, utterly, remarkably unique and different from everyone else He ever made or will ever make. This is so beautiful! It means that whatever His will is for you, it’s a path that no one else could ever walk quite as well as you, so long as you walk it with Him and for Him. You must walk it with your eyes fixed on Him. Follow Him. Follow His lead, paying attention to His movements and actions in your particular life circumstances, Try to worry less about what others would do if they were you, or what you would do if you were them. They’re not, and you’re not. Be authentically you, in Christ. Follow the words of St. Francis de Sales here: “Be who you are, and be that well!”

Serve Others

Our Lord Himself says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). So too do we get this intriguing passage from St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “…though He was in the form of God, [Christ] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:6-8).

On my reading, the key word in this latter passage seems to be “emptied”. In Greek the term is εκενωσεν (pronounced “ek-en-OH-sin”), from the Greek verb meaning simply, “to empty”. The implications here are stunning. God, who is plenitude itself, willingly empties Himself in the supreme act of self-gift. God, in a sense, divests Himself of all that is rightly His, fully manifest in the Second Person/The Son/The Word. Jesus is, as St. John of the Cross puts it somewhere, “all that God the Father has to say.” Christ is the very “image of the invisible God” as St. Paul writes in Colossians chapter 1.

Think of a wave washing ashore, pushing on, enduring, stretching as thin as it needs to so that it can reach as far inland as possible with its loving caress. Keep this image of God’s love and service to you in your mind next time you’re tempted to doubt. He cannot possibly reach any further into your life’s darkest recesses with His offer of forgiveness and grace. All we have to do is accept it. All we have to do is open the door to Him. All we have to do is go outside into the light when He calls “Lazarus—come out!” Our individual contributions to the drama of salvation are astonishingly minute, almost infinitesimally small compared to God’s—but they are real, meaningful, and necessary for our salvation!

Our Lord calls us to lives of thanksgiving for the gift He constantly offers to us. We are made for love, by love. We cannot possibly live authentic Christian lives by keeping that gift to ourselves. Just as “nature abhors a vacuum”, so genuine love abhors being clutched, grasped, or locked away. We cannot possibly dam up the wellspring of grace. As Jesus says, “You received without pay, give without pay” (Matthew 10:8).

This Easter season may be the perfect time for all of us to reassess how authentically and consistently we’re serving those with whom we’re sharing the journey of life.

Eagerly await the Parousia

Parousia is the Greek term for Jesus’ “Second Coming” at the end of time. Countless hours and oceans of ink have been exhausted in vain attempts to map out just when this culminating moment might take place. But as Jesus Himself warned, “…of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

While we should thus be not overly concerned with grasping for ourselves this privileged knowledge of God, we absolutely must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (see Philippians 2:12-13). This means, I think, that when we begin to inevitably feel frustration with the fallen world around us (and within us as we struggle with sinful habits), we must keep reaching out to God in eagerness, trust, faith, anticipation.

We must recognize that, as Thomas Merton wisely observes, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” Our Lord wants us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to desire the Kingdom, to strive for salvation at each moment. We may not know when exactly that Parousia will come, but we know that our own personal encounter with Christ and our particular judgment are not, in the grand scheme of things, that far off.

Easter must happen within us all, so that the life of the Risen One will truly RISE in us. Give Him room! Open all the doors in your life! Hold nothing back from him this season, and see what he does! May you all have a blessed and joyful Easter season, and know that you’re in my prayers always.

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