Easter calls us to resurrection -- our own
By JOAN CHITTISTER
The old news about Easter is that it is about resurrection. The new news may be that it is not so much about the resurrection of Jesus as it is about our own. Unfortunately, we so often miss it. Jesus, you see, is already gone from one tomb. The only question now is whether or not we are willing to abandon our own, leave the old trappings behind and live in the light of the Jesus, the Christ, whom the religious establishment persecuted and politicians condemned. It is the greatest question of them all in a world that practices religion as an act of private devotion and sees law and government as an arm of God. It requires rising again from the notion of piety as a justification, an excuse, for pietism.
Its at the tomb that we discover things about ourselves. Its at the tomb that we come to make sense of the questions that have dogged us down the weeks of Lent. At the tomb they all come together in one great, blinding awareness. The Easter truth is that however disturbing each of the questions may be in themselves, they are not actually separate questions at all with which we have been confronted these weeks. They are all the same. Each implies the other. Each demands the other. To become what we practice, as Jesus teaches on Ash Wednesday, is to become new. To recognize the prophetic nature of what it means to follow the prophet Jesus, as the disciples discover at the Transfiguration, is to begin to act differently. To understand, like the farmer about the fig tree, that life is about slow, unlikely and untimely growth, not perfection, is to think newly both about the spiritual life and the redeeming dimension of each of its moments, however lackluster, however demanding. To love the unlovable recklessly, as does the Prodigal Parent in the face of two unlovable children, is to travel through life with new insight, with new people, in new ways. To beware the sins of religion while treasuring its holy-making ways is to cry out unceasingly, despite any so-called standards to the contrary, for those whose cries are yet unheard, as do the disciples on the road to Jerusalem. Indeed, the answers to each separate question of Lent are all part of the answer to the basic issue of whether or not we intend to live life newly now or just go on doing more of the same-old same-old and call it following Jesus. The answers are all part of rising from the tombs of impoverished devotions and dualisms that make ritual the measure of religion, human suffering acceptable and contemplation more a refuge than a response to the Christ whose crosses are everywhere still and whose tombs cry for emptying.
Like the women who go to the sepulcher on Easter morning to bless the body because of which their entire lives had been changed (Luke 24:1-12), we have been preparing for six weeks to answer this last, most momentous question: Will we ourselves, touched by Jesus, now rise and do life differently?
Like the women at the tomb who until this moment have refused to imagine that life can be different, we have looked for the fullness of life in the wrong places: in things, in systems, in social approval, in money, in status. We have been blind.
Like the women who went to the tomb expecting to find the grave blocked, we have allowed our fear of resistance to silence our hearts and color our sense of possibility. Like the women who realized when they got there that the stone had been rolled away, we find ourselves struggling between fear of reprisal and faith in the truth that is the gospel.
Like the apostles who could not imagine any truth outside themselves, we have failed to hear the Word of God from strange quarters. We have lived through racism and sexism and prejudice and taken it all for granted. We have taken as truth the half-truths of every system that preaches only itself. We have hugged God to ourselves and made the Creator a prisoner of our smallness of mind and hardness of heart. We have been closed to God in the world and did not hear what we would not hear.
We have made ourselves blind and deaf and dumb in the name of fidelity. Like Peter and John who run to the tomb to see for themselves because they will not believe the women, we have failed to realize that the voice of the church is one. We have missed the whole point of the tomb: that to cut anyone off from the proclamation of the word of God is to shrink our own experience of God. We miss the messages. We reject the messengers. We make ourselves the gauge of the height and breadth and depth of God. We make ourselves the measure of our God and call it faith.
But the questions with which Lent confronts us have called us far beyond privatism to prophetism, beyond perfectionism to growth, beyond the liberal to the radical, beyond ritual to witness, beyond religion-for-show to religion-for-real. Beyond spiritual practices to the spiritual life. To a life that is truly spiritual.
The resurrection to which Easter calls us -- our own -- requires that we prepare to find God where God is by opening ourselves to the world around us with a listening ear. That means that we must be prepared to be surprised by God in strange places, in ways we never thought wed see and through the words of those we never thought wed hear. We must allow others -- even those whom we have till now refused to consider -- to open our hearts to things we do not want to hear. We must release the voice of God in everyone, everywhere. It means putting down the social phobias that protect us from one another. It requires that we clean out of our vocabulary our contempt for liberals, our frustration for radicals and our disdain for conservatives. It presumes that we will reach out to the other -- to the gays and the immigrants and the blacks, to the strangers, the prisoners and the poor -- in order to divine what visions to see with them, what cries to cry for them, what stones to move from the front of their graves.
That will, of course, involve listening to women for a change, seeing angels where strangers are, emptying tombs, contending with Pharisees and walking to Emmaus with strangers crying Hosanna all the way.
Indeed, Lent is not a series of behaviors: It is a series of questions. Consequently, Easter is not simply a day of celebration: It is, as well, a day of decision. What is really to be decided is whether or not we ourselves will rise from the deadening grip of this worlds burnt-out systems to the light-giving time of Gods coming again, this time in us.
Then the Easter Alleluia is true: God is surely with us.
Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, author and lecturer, lives in Erie, Pa.
National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2001