Nicodemus’ question gets right to the point: Can we be born all over again? Easter answers resoundingly, “Well, yes, we certainly can!” That’s what Easter is all about—being born again, passing from death-in-life to true life; passing from fear to trust and anxiety to peace; passing from small mindedness to a love that never stops expanding; and surely passing from old world sadness to superabundant joy. That may sound outlandishly farfetched, but Easter is nothing if it is not a total re-creation of ourselves and our world in justice and love, mercy and forgiveness, healing and peace.
Jesus’ nighttime encounter with Nicodemus testifies that an Easter way of life is not at all continuous with what we knew on the other side of the tomb. Easter is not about making everything just a little bit better; it’s about making everything dazzlingly new. To enter into Easter is to be part of a world that we never knew existed, but one so rich in promise that in light of it everything in our old world seems to be dying. In today’s gospel, Jesus calls this Easter world the “rule of God.” The rule of God is a new way of life marked not by violence and animosity and retaliation, mistrust and betrayal, but by harmony, forgiveness, and peace. It is a world that thrives not on the power of domination and coercion, but on the creative power of mutual service and generous love. To be part of this new life, Jesus tells us that we must be begotten from above, born not of flesh, but of the Spirit. It is to take our bearings not from a world that is passing away, but from the risen one. It’s saying yes to a love that’s been calling to us since the day we were born.
The trouble with Easter is that we don’t hold onto it. We celebrate it and then slide back into the tomb. Like Nicodemus, Jesus invites all of us to embrace Easter as a feast that ought to be a way of life. It is not one day to celebrate and then quickly forget, but the exultant life Jesus’ death and resurrection make possible for us, one in which no hope is too wild and no dream ever foolishly farfetched.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist Family of Holy Cross Province.