Year A Easter
Charles Dickens’s book A Tale of Two Cities begins with that famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” This morning, Our Lord has emerged from the darkness of the grave and into the light of the resurrection, and he is lifting us up with him. Even when our lives seem dark, when we don’t know what’s coming next and we’re anxious, the light is but a stone’s roll away.
Dickens describes Paris during the upheaval of the French Revolution, which was a terrible moment in human history. Blood flowed freely in the streets as power-hungry would-be tyrants attempted to impose their will on the rest of the populace. There were so many public executions that a new killing device was invented – the guillotine. In a moment of black humor, Dickens refers to it as the National Barber, and this is the situation in which he creates a fictional character named Sydney Carton. He is a deeply flawed man who fears that his various transgressions have disgraced his name, he is a sinner sunk to far down to be redeemed, but even the worst of us are still capable of great acts of charity. Sydney has his secret virtue, too – he is passionately and selflessly in love with a woman. She is married to another man but, to Sydney’s credit, his love remains chaste. The purity of his love ultimately becomes his redemption, because the husband of the woman he loves is scheduled to be executed and Sydney contrives to change places with him, thus fulfilling his love – Even if he has to die to do it, he will save the husband of his beloved so that she will remain happy. As he is led to his appointment with the National Barber, his mind harkens back to the words of Jesus Christ: “I AM the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall live.” And then he puts his head on the butcher’s block and the blade does its work.
This is a re-imagining of the scene at the Cross and the way in which darkness makes the light of the resurrection shine even more brightly. One man dies and his death is not meaningless, it is so that another might live. Light has folded darkness into the divine goodness, and nothing, not even sin or death can withstand the brightness of sacrificial love.
Jesus died in your place, so that, even after you die, yet you shall live. It is important that we revisit this fact even on a morning as joyful as Easter, precisely because it is this very fact which makes Easter so joyful. Death has been defeated! Easter isn’t just some fable about easter eggs and bunnies, it is about salvation dearly bought. Jesus isn’t an example for us unless he is first a Savior for us. At the Cross; he shows what God promises to do for us and he also does what he shows us. He is both the one who throws open the gate of heaven and he is the gate of heaven.
For this reason, Easter is such a happy day. It is like the rising of the Sun after a long dark night, a ray of light that pierces the shadows and gives color and shape to the world. United to the Our Lord and his resurrection, it is as if we can see clearly for the very first time.
In our gospel reading, we encounter a clear example of this in Mary Magdalene while she walks to the grave of her Lord. She is alone and undoubtedly wracked with grief. Mary is one of the few who remained with Jesus through the darkness of the Cross, never left his side. I imagine the sense of loss she felt as this man who had changed her entire life now gave his own up. This is how John pictures her, every detail confirms it – It’s dark, she’s alone, in a graveyard. What does she find when she gets there? An empty tomb, even the dead body of her Lord has been stolen from her.
She is a momentary example of a life from which Jesus has been taken. If we do not have Him, then all we have are tears. His absence is like a great void at the bottom of everything. Sure, we can entertain ourselves with other pursuits and muddle through life, after all entertainment and diversion is all around us, but the darkness is always there. The absence of the Light of the World, the one who illuminates and makes life beautiful? It is like living in a graveyard.
Now for the good news. This doesn’t have to be you. Indeed, this doesn’t have to be anyone. Jesus died for sinners, not just those who naturally seem to be saints. The sinners, in case you’re wondering, are you and me. Jesus died for us so that we might allow our old selves to die along with Him. He calls us each by name out of darkness and into the light.
St. Augustine says, “Pondus meum amor meus – My weight is my love.” The darkness of the Cross shows us true love. The brightness of the resurrection shows us our true weight. He goes on, “Weight does not always tend towards the lowest place, but towards its own place. A stone falls, but fire rises. They move according to their own weights, they seek their own places…things out of place are restless. They find their own places, and then they rest. My love is my weight. Whithersoever I am moved, I am moved there by love. By thy gift, O Lord, we are set on fire, and are borne aloft: we burn, and we are on the way.” God’s love is like a fire in the heart, it burns as bright as the sun on Easter morning, and there can be no other result from the Cross other than the total and complete victory by Jesus Christ. A fire by its very nature rises, and the fiery love of God that has set our hearts ablaze it, too, lifts us up out of the grave and to our proper place. The human soul is made to live forever. We do not sink into darkness, but united with the death and resurrection of Our Lord, we are raised up to heaven.
Sydney Carton sees ahead to the future after his own sacrificial death, “I see the evil of this time…wearing out. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy …It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Our lives are formed to the Cross, and faith can be demanding, occasionally it must make its way through shadow and darkness, but it always finds its true weight. Look to the Resurrection, for it is our future. It is our hope and our joy.