Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

If you could start over from the beginning, what would you do differently? Don’t be too quick to say you won’t change a thing. We all have memories of childhood and know things that could have gone differently enough to change the course of our life. I would not have learned to get along with others if I didn’t struggle to survive with five brothers. I would not have learned to love reading and writing if we had video games and the internet. I would not have felt a call to teaching as a profession if my mom was not a public high school science teacher. I would not have considered priesthood if my two older brothers hadn’t gone off to high school seminary. One is a priest in Virginia Beach. The other is married and welcomed their first grandchild a year ago. I would not enjoy vegetables if my dad didn’t plant a vegetable garden every summer which we had to tend and weed. I would not have learned patience and diplomacy if I had not quarreled with my sister a lot while I lived at home. We do get along wonderfully now. And I am convinced my life would have been radically different were it not for certain childhood experiences that shaped the way I see God, the universe, and myself. I just wish I had not been too timid or cautious when I was younger. I could have been more confident, more adventurous, more daring, more willing to explore and learn.

But a big advantage of looking back on the journey is discovering the missteps and missed opportunities of my youth, and doing something about it while I am able. I can’t change the past, but I can improve on the present. I’m not sure I want to change everything, not even painful or embarrassing experiences simply for being painful or embarrassing because even those have helped me mature in self-confidence and faith. Instead, with a better understanding of my own mind and heart, I can approach with courage other opportunities and choices I will yet face in the present and in days ahead. It isn’t a radical new revelation, just a proven truth returning with greater clarity.

On this Easter night/day, good news is proclaimed, that Jesus who once was dead, is now risen from the grave. He is no longer subject to death and sin. Now he possesses new life which he promises to all who listen to his Word and live by it. But what sort of new life would we possess if we still cling to the old life we once had? If we want new life, we must give up our old life. If we want to rise from our graves, we must first acknowledge that our flawed and selfish nature put us in the grave. And when we recognize our missteps, our pride, our thirst, and our blindness, we must turn away. We must put them to death. There is no rising to new life unless we die to our old life.

If we would return to the past and make significant changes, it is possible only if we recognize in the present that we could have done better. And the desire for better is a step in the direction of dying to our old life, a step in the direction of rising to new life. On this Easter night/day, God shares with us the hope of new life, a life we need not wait to receive till after this earthly life comes to an end. Jesus offers us new life here and now, if only we are willing to give up our old life. This old life is given over to sin and selfishness, to greed and jealousy, to lust and pride, to laziness and self-indulgence, to hate and resentment. We will not truly possess the new life Jesus gives unless we let go of these flaws and weaknesses of our nature, unless we embrace the tremendous value of Jesus’ offer of eternal fulfillment and communion with himself and the Father. But what will it take to convince us unless we have ourselves encountered him, unless we have ourselves known God’s mercy and renewal in his abundant and unconditional love, unless the thirst of our soul is quenched, our spirit’s lack of sight is restored, the stench of spiritual death and decay is dispelled? In baptism God calls us by name. God invites us to intimacy. God offers us the fullness of his own divine life.

There is great joy among God’s people as we proclaim new life through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But it is all for show, all without meaning unless we ourselves give up our old lives, unless we experience the death of our pride, our greed, our laziness, our lust, and our hate. If we cannot die to our old lives once and for all but only in spurts and trickles, we will also partake of new life only in spurts and trickles. Instead, if we let go of our jealousies, our self-indulgences, and our resentments once and for all, knowing we have still to struggle with temptation and selfishness, we can experience new life completely as Jesus bestows it upon us.

In churches around the world tonight/last night, those chosen for baptism are initiated into the family of God’s children, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and are welcomed to the Eucharistic table for the first time. When we witness this, we are reminded of our own birth into the life of grace. Since most of us were baptized as infants and young children, we might not relate with images of a new life and an old life. But we can relate with life-changing experiences, before high school, after high school, before Virginia, after Virginia (the state, not your wife), or maybe your wife or husband, before and after meeting your spouse, or the birth of your children or grandchildren, your empty nest, your retirement. Whatever the experience that is life-changing there is a noticeable break, and we are never the same again. We believe baptism does that for us and more. It opens to us new beginnings reconciling us with God and one another, offering us a lifetime of grace to mature in holiness, nurturing the hope and promise of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. And the new life bestowed on us fundamentally transforms us. We are renewed in mind and spirit. Our thirst is quenched with life-giving water which becomes a living spring within. Our eyes are opened so we see and understand better God’s saving action in our lives. And the old life steeped in selfishness and envy, lust and laziness, resentment and greed, is forever set aside so we approach the challenges to our faith with compassion and courage, with purity of intention and confidence in God’s power, with detachment from earthly possessions and the willingness to forgive those who offend us. This fundamental change demands that we acknowledge the One greater than ourselves whose gracious will brings to fulfillment all that Jesus promised and all the prophets of old foretold.

While on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February, I entered the small stone structure under the great dome in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that holds the last remnant of the tomb of Jesus. Placing my hands on the marble slab I experienced a surge of joy and inner calm about the historical Jesus that will stay with me forever. I am convinced that if I had not met him before then, that moment would mean nothing. But I know he is alive. And only in him will I know the fullness of life.

Rolo B Castillo © 2023