Living the Easter Message

 

by Nicole Snyder

Last year Vernon Ware wrote a blog called “Showtime” challenging readers to think about how we might take the message of Easter beyond Easter Sunday.  Vernon suggested the answer is by demonstrating love in a relevant way.  After much reflection, I have to agree.

The hard part is that love lived in relation to other human beings is complicated and messy.  People are imperfect.  I am imperfect.  If our imperfections weren’t enough, other people have the audacity to be different than me.  Loving in midst of differences requires me to be open and flexible.  It begs me when there is misunderstanding and miscommunication to open up more, to become even more vulnerable.

Easter is a very hopeful inspiring story.  The resurrection thing sounds great, but the cross part not so much.  I’ll pass on the flogging.  I’ll pass on the crown of thorns.  I’ll pass on carrying my cross to the hill.  I’ll pass on being nailed to the cross.  I’ll pass on being humiliated and laughed at and denigrated.  Can I just skip Calvary and go straight to resurrection?  The results of my ponderings was no.  As the adage says, people don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care.

First I must love.  I am called to love with the agape kind of love defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  I am called to be respectful and compassionate.  I am called to imagine dwelling in another human being’s lived experience albeit temporarily.  If I’m honest with myself in my desire to live the Easter message, then I have to also say that I’m called to love people as they are in all their imperfection and messiness and in all the ways they are different from me.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).  My cross is different from yours.  My path of following will be uniquely mine.  Through it all, I can choose to love agape style.  I will be patient and kind.  I will not be envious.  I will not boast.  I will not be arrogant or rude.  I will not insist on my own way.  I will not be irritable or resentful.  I will rejoice when you do well and find your truth.  I will protect, trust, hope, and persevere.  That kind of love requires my vulnerability and authenticity; it breaks my heart and tears me open; it is hard.  Because I am human, I demonstrate these attributes of love imperfectly.  Nevertheless, I choose to do my best to live the Easter message everyday: love lived agape style.

Who Is My Resurrection For?

by Kate Gerwin

“There is no them, there is no them, only us.”—Bono

Christ is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Christians world-wide, Easter marks the highest holy day of the liturgical year, the day when the great drama of the Gospel reaches its climax. During Easter, we revel in the resurrection and the mystery that life is stronger than death, and that love can overcome any obstacle, no matter how impossible it may seem.

During Easter, we are reborn through Grace.

And then what? That’s the question I find myself asking this Easter—how to live out the abundant life that Jesus came to offer and die for; what to do with all of this gratuitous Grace.

I’ve found that the more I delve into the Gospels, the more I get to know Jesus, the more I am convinced there is only one answer to this question: share it.

Despite what an obvious answer that may be, certain elements of Christian triumphalism paired with our increasingly individualistic culture whisper to us that it is “my faith” or at least “ours” to be enjoyed only by a select inside group. In this mindset, it’s easy to start viewing my faith journey as a self-help project—one in which faith is meant to make me happier (and even happier that someone else, as if happiness was a fixed commodity), healthier and wealthier.

While I firmly believe that God intends for, even longs for us to be wildly happy, when I think of faith this way—as my own, protected piece of the pie—I feel a million miles away from Love. A million miles away from Jesus.

In Buddhism, there is a term for an enlightened being, called a bodhisattva. What makes the bodhisattva unique however, is that this individual has taken a vow that she will not enter into full enlightenment, or “Buddhahood” until all sentient beings have entered in before her. For the bodhisattva, there is no separation between her own ‘good’ and the ‘good’ of all living things. For her, it is better to be the small strong light of Love in the depths of hell with those in need than bask in the glory of heaven, removed from their suffering.

I ask myself then, who is my resurrected life for? Me? Yes, certainly, for I am a Child of God, worthy of a life of abundance and joy. But when I look to Jesus, the ultimate bodhisattva, I cannot help but see that there can be no isolated ‘me’—not as long as I want to call myself a follower of Christ.

The message of Easter is that there is only ‘we’—only ‘us.’

Showtime

By the time you read this blog, millions of people will have already attended an Easter service on Sunday. Many parishioners will have purchased new clothes, and numerous churches will have spent money to make sure that their buildings and the worship experience are as attractive as possible. There will be plays, dramatizations, special guests, and special effects. In an overheard conversation, one pastor even called Easter Sunday, “Showtime”.

I thought long and hard about that statement. What exactly are churches offering on “Showtime” Easter Sunday? And why is that offering not compelling enough to encourage persons to come back before Easter of the next year? Is that an indication of their lack of religious conviction or an indictment of the relevance of the Church? Many churches are reporting that attendance is dropping and it is not beyond belief to wonder if eventually Easter will just become another Sunday.

I don’t think it has to be that way. Even in our age of smartphones, tablets, and virtual-almost-everything, I still believe that the community church is relevant and necessary. There are challenges that the Church must address. How does the Church really feel about marriage equality and why are so many Church marriages failing? What does the Church really think about issues like gun control, poverty, and equal rights? Has there ever really been a separation between Church and State and, if so, what are the boundaries? These are questions that need answers and not all of those answers are easy to obtain. And most of the people who found their way into Church doors on Easter cared more about the love they felt rather than the answers to those questions.

So maybe rather than Showtime, it is “time to show” the love of Jesus in a relevant way. It is “time to show” that church members are not perfect, just persistent. It is “time to show” that wearing the right attitude is more important than wearing the right clothes and that what you are driving is far less important than what is driving you. For the Church it is time to show that compassion, forgiveness, redemption, hope, and love are really the most impressive things that can ever be shown. So is it Showtime? Yes, every single Sunday; hopefully, the Church will make sure to show the right things!

My Lenten Journey: A Personal Catholic Perspective

On February 28, 2013, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in 600 years to retire as head of the Catholic Church.  As I reflected on what this meant for me as a Catholic, I realized what a great act of submission this might have been for our Pope Emeritus, and the significance of it occurring during the holy season of Lent.

In my youth, Lent was synonymous with personal deprivation. We were expected to give up something meaningful and to abstain from meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays. Any digression warranted a trip to confession. Although I still abstain from meat on the required days, my Lenten practices have transitioned from deprivation to thanksgiving.

Lent culminates with Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is significant because it brings meaning to our faith. St. Paul reminds us that if Christ had not been raised, our faith would be useless and we would still be in our sins. Therefore, I strive to make my Lenten journey less about what I give up and more about what I can do. It is about preparation, thanksgiving, and being engaged prayerfully and reflectively to celebrate Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Options for Lenten practices include community prayer, such as Stations of the Cross, daily Rosary recitations, and daily Mass, or personal prayer and daily devotions.  Another means of service is to contribute to the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl project, a simple yet meaningful way to fulfill St. James’ directive in his New Testament letter:

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17).

This is my personal perspective, and one that I feel honored to share. It is not intended to represent the views of the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University, Maryland, which is home to many faiths and Christian denominations.

As the journey towards Easter continues, I encourage everyone to be mindful of each other, and the blessings that we have individually and collectively received. I pray for our Pope Emeritus, that his decision was one of acceptance of God’s will. I especially pray that we acknowledge God’s favor in our lives with generous and prayerful acts of thanksgiving.