"Remember Jesus of Nazareth,
staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection,
bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory,
the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God." -- Frederick Buechner in "The Magnificent Defeat"
Easter morning service was exhilarating and joyous -- rousing music, a reading of the familiar but amazing gospel account of Jesus' resurrection, and an inspiring sermon culminating in a festive Eucharistic celebration. Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Alelujah! Alelujah!
As I left church following yesterday's service, my heart was filled to overflowing with gratitude and joy. The sun was shining and the signs of spring were emerging in daffodils showing their first bloom and trees beginning to bud and blossom. Everything seemed right with the world. After all it was Easter Sunday, the day of Resurrection, the focal point of my Christian faith. As I left church the accumulated troubles and worries of the past week paled into insignificance as I basked in that joyful hope.
By Monday morning the warm glow of joy and celebration was only a memory as I looked at my schedule and my longer than normal to do list. Why is it that the real world emerges every Monday morning to intrude and obscure the spiritual joy of Sunday? The painful reality of being human is that for all the Easters that have been celebrated there is a lot of bad stuff happening to us and around us. We are not immune to harsh reality and as much as we celebrate Easter we will continue to live our lives in a world of violence, disaster and conflict; while at a personal level we are assaulted by temptation, disease, personality conflicts, crime, disagreement and disappointment.
Easter is the celebration of Jesus' triumph over evil and death, a cosmic victory for all people at all times and in all places, and yet it seems that the victory hasn't quite hit the streets on which I live and work. Even as you and I celebrate Jesus' triumph over evil and injustice, refugees continue to pour out of Syria, the conflict and chaos in the Central African Republic shows no signs of abating, a car bomb reignites violence and bloodshed in Mali, and closer to home, in America, more than 3200 people have been killed by gun violence since the Newtown massacre just a few months ago.
So what does Easter really mean for me this Monday morning? Is the resurrection I celebrated yesterday relevant and significant in real time, or is it only a spiritual reality? What is the meaning of Easter for the young Australian mother with terminal cancer; or the innocent Filipino girl who is turned into a sex slave to make money for her masters; or the family squeezed into an overcrowded refugee camp in Jordan with nothing left of their former lives; or the heroin addict nodding off in the coffee shop?
Describing his prison experience during tsarist Russia, Fyodor Dostoyevsky states that it was like being in the "house of the dead." It was a cold, grey and dreary place of lifelessness. Men existing as though they were dead -- until one Easter Sunday when hope arrived in the form of a group of women who came to visit. Their visit brought life and colour and hope that broke through the monotonous drudgery of that prison. It spoke to them of life beyond the prison walls and of people who cared, and of a God who is merciful to prisoners. That visit became a point of light igniting the hope of "dead" men who had become resigned from life.
Viktor Frankl in reflecting on his experiences among prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp noted that "the prisoner who had lost faith in the future -- his future -- was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay." Hope is an essential ingredient for human survival and for human thriving -- and it is hope that not only lifts our sights but gives us meaning in the midst of all the chaos, conflicts, and calamities we see and experience during all the Mondays after Easter.
For it is in Jesus' victory over the worst that the world could throw at him that we find hope for ourselves, not only in the future but in the present. And yes, it is a spiritual hope for eternal life, but it is also a hope that sustains us in times of our deepest trouble here and now. The resurrection perspective changes everything. Defilement, destruction and death have no finality and there is more to life than even the biggest troubles and trials of Monday morning.
"Jesus' resurrection is the beginning of God's new project,
not to snatch people away from earth to heaven
but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.
That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about."
-- N.T. Wright in "Surprised by Hope