It is standard practice for Christians the world over to proclaim at Easter that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. My friends on the other side of the world have been posting Easter greetings on Facebook long before I got out of bed this morning. It is something we expect. It’s in our calendar every year, like Christmas and Independence Day. We knew about it going into Holy Week. We have been looking forward to this day all through Lent. So on this blessed day we give thanks and rejoice for God’s tremendous gift of salvation and new life. As well, we are eager to display images that decisively point to the Easter mystery—the cross, symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, draped in streaming white fabric; towering pillar candles ablaze with new fire; the empty tomb announcing Jesus is alive; springs of clear refreshing water to quench and revive us; the billowing smoke and fragrance of burning incense evoking the mystery of the Divine presence; the white garments of the ministers and the newly baptized washed in the blood of the Lamb; the pretty Easter hats and spring dresses; delicate lilies and a variety of flowering plants; multi-colored eggs and chocolate bunnies because nothing says it better than chocolate; and an inviting and abundant Easter table to break the paschal fast. All these images and sentiments direct our hearts and minds to that great and awesome mystery —Jesus Christ who once was dead is risen from the grave. Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! ¡Cristo ha resucitado! ¡En verdad ha resucitado!
Despite our Easter joy, we cannot dismiss the sad reality that engulfs us outside these sacred walls. We have been made painfully aware in recent months of violent attacks against innocent people being reported in the news—Paris in November 2015, San Bernardino in December, and Brussels just last week. Many other such incidents have failed to make headlines in US news coverage, occurring mostly in the Middle East and Africa, but still just as gruesome and appalling. And on our own shores, we are still unable to muster the national will to confront tough issues regarding race, economic disparity, religious liberty, mental health, and random gun violence. And although the loss of life and property are more pronounced in incidents involving violence of some kind or other, few of us are untouched by the devastating consequences of illness and disease, of divorce and the unraveling of family life, of abortion and substance abuse, of poverty and hate speech, of institutional prejudices and unexamined discriminatory behaviors against women, the poor, gays and homosexuals, the disabled, and ethnic and religious minorities. It seems the forces of evil, darkness, death, and sin hem us in on all sides. How is it we are still able to proclaim Easter joy? Are we permanently detached from the reality that most of the human family live with each day? Have we chosen to exist in a bubble of denial and pretense, preferring instead the illusion that we can isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and still live prosperous and free? Do we admit defeat in the fight for environmental sustainability, now that gas prices have plummeted and products promoting conservation are not always affordable? It’s not violence, not death, not destruction, we tell ourselves. So what’s the big deal?
When we proclaim Jesus risen from the dead, we announce to the world that life will always be victorious, that evil will not win, that those who sow division and hate will not triumph, that the human family deserves to live in peace with one another, that we welcome diversity while we foster fraternity and solidarity, that when we flourish we will do so together, that no one will ever be poor or hungry or neglected or left behind. When we proclaim Easter joy, we hail the end of violence and war, the end of corporate greed and unjust labor practices, the end of political and religious oppression. Easter joy announces our willingness to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked, to comfort the grieving, to nurture the young, to honor the elderly, to welcome the stranger. And still we can walk away from all that Easter truly means when we return to our lives outside these sacred walls choosing to leave unaffected our prejudices, our dishonesty, our greed, our jealousy, our lust, our selfish pride, our laziness, our indifference, our subtle disregard for our neighbor’s welfare, our unexamined wastefulness in the use of our earth’s resources, our affection for sin and our habits of sin. If we return to our unrepentant and self-centered lives unchanged by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we have not truly chosen whose side we are on. We have not yet made a decisive commitment to the cause of Life and Goodness and Truth. We might say with our lips “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” but soon discover we are still in league with the darkness.
For as many Easters as we have celebrated, it seems there is always something to mute or stifle our rejoicing. The darkness in the world will touch us. But we can choose to uphold the light of Christ. We will experience suffering, illness, and physical death. But we can choose to support one another in our grief and our brokenness. We will experience temptation. We might occasionally give in to selfishness. We will even cop a disrespectful attitude every now and again, speak hurtful words, and fail to assist our neighbor. But when we come to our senses, when we awaken to our hardness of heart, we must willingly choose to admit our guilt, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, restore what we have damaged, and welcome the gift of healing and life from the Risen Jesus.
The forces of evil, darkness, and sin always seem to possess an endless supply of resources and creativity to advance the cause of division, and death, and destruction. But the forces of goodness, light, and peace always seem to lack the support of those with power and influence, and are ever in dire need of adequate funding. We are quick to notice this disparity, but unless we muster the personal will to defund and defeat evil, and darkness, and sin in our own lives, we are speaking from both sides of our mouth. Unless we awaken to and decisively reject those places in our own lives where the Risen Jesus still does not shine his light, our Easter proclamation is hollow. His victory over evil, darkness, and sin will not take hold in the world unless it has first taken hold in the lives of those who proclaim him Lord. We cannot truly and honestly proclaim “Jesus is risen!” while we contribute to the cause of selfishness in our own lives. It will be a constant struggle. Of this we are aware. But it is not a losing battle.
I admire aspiring presidential candidates who in the face of bad returns still speak with bluster and fire, that is, until they concede defeat. They puff up their chest and announce they will take nothing less than victory. It’s all a show really. But when we proclaim “Jesus is risen!,” we proclaim whose side we are on, that evil will not win. And it cannot be just for show.
I am Fr. Rolo Castillo … and I approve this message.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016