Monday, April 9, 2012

Bringing Life to the dead . . .

     During the coming weeks of the Easter season, we will be reminded of our relationship with God. As we make our way mostly through John’s Gospel and the pastoral letters, we will be reminded of how today’s events marked a dramatic change in our relationship with our Father in heaven. Of course, looming in the background, is the relationship of the so-called old self.  How we were at emnity with our Lord?  How blinded were we? I’ll give you an easy example: Take a look around us. How many kids do you see dressed perfectly for the day? Now, what group of people in their right mind would ever take these little angels, pump them full of sugar after an egg hunt, and then pretend later today to be shocked by their behavior? And look around you some more! See all those older adults rubbing their hands together and cackling to themselves like villians? Their children are grown and they know they don’t have to live with the consequences of the pounds of sweets that they donated!

     Yes, we joke and laugh around here a bit, maybe a bit too much for some. But this is a day when it is incredibly hard not to feel incredible joy. The darkness and despair of Good Friday and Holy Saturday has given way to the hope and promise of Easter. The dirges of Lent have faded in lieu of the Alluluias and lilting tunes of this season. The reminders of the cost of our sins, the color red representing His blood, has resulted in those reminders of the purity that He offers us, through beautiful white linens and cloths. Those reminders of the joy we ought to have internally are all around us. And yet, we are still so blind! Perhaps blind is not the correct word, maybe the word is “wrongly focused.”

     I know that we have become the “home” for the Marquette Group of AA now. Last year, Holy Week was rather boring. This year, I have had a lot of Confessions. Without divulging anything already forgotten and forgiven by our Lord, I have had a few people really focused on their Lenten failures. “I tried to give up chocolate but binged six times, Father. Do you think He will still forgive me?” “I gave up soft drinks for Lent, Father, but found it even harder than alcohol. Do you think He will still forgive me?” For a group of people who recognize their addictions, this inability to control their will is frightening. Part of my job, of course, has been to allay that fear, and to do that effectively, I have had to refocus their minds on the truth of the Gospel.

     No doubt many of here gathered need that same refocus. What do you think was accomplished by His death on a cross and the Resurrection that we celebrate this morning? Do you think His death and Resurrection is just another excuse for a day off or a party? Do you think it’s an excuse to set the date of the Masters? Maybe it helps the networks remember to air that great movie with Charlton Heston? Do you think that His death and Resurrection is a quaint story important to your mom or grandmother but has no real impact on you or how you live your life? Do you, perhaps, pat yourself on the back thinking that you assign these events greater significance? Do you think His death allows you to forgive others because you are forgiven? Do you think that acknowledging what He did makes you a good or considerate person?  Maybe you think it is a great thing because, in your loss of right focus, you have determined that the whole "churchy thing" is not for you but that His death and Resurrection gives you hope?

     Brothers and sisters, if you are caught up in thoughts like that, you have missed the point of this week’s remembrances and celebrations! Some of those statements are obviously true. It is far easier to forgive when we inwardly digest the fact that we have been forgiven and Easter does set the date for the network airing of the Ten Commandments. Our focus, however, when we are paying attention to those benefits, is misplaced. Make no mistake. The events of Easter and Holy Week are not about making bad people good. The events of Holy Week and Easter are not about giving us an extra day off from work. The events of Holy Week and Easter are not “nice traditions.” The events of Holy Week and Easter testify to us, and to the world around us, that the dead have been given a chance at life!

     As I have been having some of these conversations with people at work, I have noticed in the evenings, as Karen and I try to catch up on the day, that the wonderful Christian movie "The Replacements" has been playing on one of the cable channels.  There are a number of Gospel illustrations in the movie, as well as some potty humor.  I would not counsel anyone to give up sleep to see it.  But, after the Washington Sentinels first loss, the coach (played by Gene Hackman) brings everyone together in a meeting to ask about their fears.  After an exhaustive consideration of the insect world, Shane Falco (the quarterback played by Keanu Reeves) answers that they should be afraid of quicksand.  Falco explains that human tendancy for things to get worse the more we struggle.  And, naturally, the more we struggle, the worse we make things.  Many of those who attend AA recognize this truth internally.  That's part of the reason they get so upset when they fail at a discipline like giving up chocolate or avoiding swear words for Lent.  But it is also why we should be so full of joy when confronted with the agony of the cross and the hope of the Resurrection.  You and I know that we cannot atone for all our sins.  As we looked a few weeks ago, even something as minor as a harsh word to a friend requires all kinds of repair, all kinds of work which we cannot begin to see when we begin the process of reconciliation.  And, once begun, we realize how inadequate we truly are to accomplish such amazing work.  Never mind the truly scandalous things in our lives.

     Yes, we can forgive others. Yes, we can do good and even great deeds. Yes, there are a whole host (holy host pun sort of intended) of benefits that result from Easter. But chiefly do we praise Him this day for freeing us from the death we had all earned, every single one of us to walk the earth except His Son. Easter is special because we are promised life for all eternity, if we would but accept His offer of salvation. You and I can go forth into the world to do good in His Name, to love others as we should love ourselves, to do battle with the spiritual forces of evil which seek to fight Him until the day of His coming certain of His ability to overcome everything in our lives, even our own deaths! How can we not celebrate? How can we not sing praises? As the days and weeks and months wear on, brothers and sisters, how will you live? Will you live as one caught up in the snares of the world, deluded by the false hope and promises of a world ever seeking to gain the worship and praise which rightly belongs to Him? Will you choose to live as one struggling in the quicksand of Shane Falco and the futility and frustration that entails?  Or will you live as a person brought back from the dead, a person placed on the rock of Christ's redeeming love, a person empowered by God to carry that same life-giving message into the world, that others might join you in amazing songs and incredible joy for all eternity?

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