I’m writing this reflection for Easter a day after the fire that destroyed a great part of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was put out. As many of us saw videos and pictures of the fire, we watched with sadness and the recognition of what impact this event would have on France and the Church and the entire world. But our hearts were lifted when we witnessed the efforts of fire fighters and so many others to save as much of the cathedral and the priceless artifacts within as they did. Even though it may take many years, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that the church will be rebuilt.
When I see so many people come together at times like these, to help people after some disaster or tragedy, I cannot help but think, “Here is the hope that is Easter.” And that is why the question the angels put to the women who discover the empty tomb of Jesus hits me so hard. In the Gospel reading for the Easter Vigil from Luke, several women “who had come from Galilee with Jesus took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” When they get there, they find the stone has been rolled away, and the tomb empty. And then they see two angels who ask: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee…”
The reason this question hits me so hard is because we know what incredible things can happen when people come together and work for the benefit of others, and yet we can still think that living in terms of “us” and “them” can bring life! Why do we still seek life among the attitudes and practices that bring death? We can still be so easily seduced into thinking that the point of life is to have as many “things” as we can, to the point of seeing everything and even everyone in terms of how they can satisfy our desires. Sometimes we can get so greedy, that all we can see is the bottom line, and how much profit we can make right now, ignoring the short and long-term consequences of our actions to those in need and to the health of the environment. Or sometimes we can let fear convince us that the only way we can guarantee life for ourselves is to deny life to others, or make sure that they are imprisoned, or held down, or shut out. Or do we think we find life in putting down others, or casting ourselves as better than “they?”
So, for me, when I see the angels’ question in these terms, Easter does not only bring me joy and assurance of God’s faithfulness, it presents me with a challenge. The Resurrection of Jesus challenges me to trust in the living wisdom of the Gospel, not the dead fears and prejudices of the world. Easter challenges us to work in hope for a better world. Easter challenges us to choose life!
And so when we work for justice and peace, we are working as an “Alleluia” people. When we are in solidarity with Muslims whose mosques are destroyed, or Jews whose synagogues are defaced, or churches that have been burned down because the congregations are African-American, we are working as an Easter people. When we look for ways to come together and solve problems as a community, we are living in the hope of Easter. We are not seeking the living among the dead, but rather look to what we know can happen when people from all circumstances and experiences see a common need.
If I truly believe Jesus has risen, I will follow Him in love and in life. Just as He rose from the dead, Jesus has lifted me up more times than I can count, and He calls me, in hope and in joy, to help lift others up. Happy Easter!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.