Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Valuing Easter

Readings for Sunday, April 19/ 3rd Sunday of Easter:
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-9
1 John 2:1-5
Luke 24:35-48

The other day I sat down and watched the movie Matchstick Men, which is about conmen and their work. One of the conmen goes in to speak with a therapist and tells him he’s an antique furniture salesman. At one point the therapist asks if it’s okay that he prop his feet up on a footstool on account of his back trouble. The supposed antique furniture salesman agrees without batting an eye. This goes on for a couple of visits when the therapist finally says, ‘This footstool is an antique of great and for weeks you don’t even seem to mind me propping my feet up, when normal people usually balk at such an idea. So what do you really do?’

This scene struck me because it showed that the conman was exposed because he failed to recognize something that was of great importance, and which he should have known about. Looking around the world today, I see a world full of people – including many Christians – who celebrate Easter but who have no idea of the inherent value of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter is the day (and season) when we focus especially on the fact that Christ died and rose again, that He conquered death, that He is victorious over sin, that He has opened the gates of Heaven and all humanity is able to enter into the Eternal Heavenly Banquet. But does the value of that really touch our hearts?

In the world today there are two major issues that tend to veil the importance of Easter and make it difficult for us to see the necessity of it in our individual lives. The first is presumption of salvation. I have been to funerals and heard ‘they’re in a better place’ and I wondered in my heart if those speaking actually knew the deceased. The fact is that most of the world today presumes that the nature course of things is that we die and then we immediately go to Heaven. But the Gospel tells us another story. It tells us, instead, that the natural course is that we die and go to Hell if we don’t at least try to follow the commands of the Lord. And yet, every person who dies, whether they’ve ever said a prayer in their life is automatically canonized as a saint in heaven. When we think in such a way, we first rob the individual of prayers that might be helpful for them to get to Heaven if they are in purgatory. And secondly, it harms us because if I know for myself that I don’t have to do anything special to get to Heaven, I very likely wont. I’ll settle for what’s comfortable and coast in. But again, this is not compatible with the Gospel invitation to enter the narrow gate and walk the way of the cross to find glory in eternity.

Connected to this is a loss of a sense of sin. Things that we do routinely today would have been thought unimaginable 75 years ago. And things that are sinful but not ‘major sins’ aren’t even concerns for the majority of the world. ‘It’s just who I am’ is the common response. And yet, if we fail to see the impact that sin has upon our lives – disconnecting us from God, grace, and salvation – then we fail to recognize the gift that Jesus Christ has given us in conquering sin. I find it interesting that so much of the Easter season talks about sin. St. Peter today said, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”  St. John told us, “I am writing this to you that you may not commit sin.” And Jesus trumps them both, describing how the Christ was to come, suffer, die, and be raised so that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached. Sin is at the foundation of the Resurrection. If sin didn’t exist, Christ wouldn’t have had to take on our flesh, suffer His Passion, die and rise from the dead. But sin does exist and so we need a savior.

 This is the Good News of the Easter season: that although all of humanity is undeserving of eternal life, but rather deserving of eternal death on account of our sins, the Lord Jesus has come among us and died in our place and opened the gates of Heaven for us to be able to enter in with Him and reign forever with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  St. Augustine once beautifully noted, “God created us without us, but He cannot save us without us.” He invites us to take part in the plan He has made. Basically, it’s like hitting jackpot at the casino. If you just kept the printout saying how much you won it won’t do you any good; you have to cash it in. In much the same way, the Lord has purchased our souls for eternal life. We simply have to walk the way with Him and because of the Resurrection we can do so. May God grant us the grace this day to cast out sin from our lives and rejoice in the gift of freedom that Christ has won for us.