PESACH, POETRY & PROMISE: HOPE REVISITED

Catholic Homily/Reflection
Easter Sunday - Year A
March 23, 2008

Something new is in the air; something strange; something unfathomable, it is true, but also something real. It is so real we stay up and keep watch. We keep vigil on account of it. It is so real, albeit difficult to fully fathom, that we engage in a multiplicity of symbolisms … Easter eggs, easter bunnies (Europe and US), the peacock (ancient Christians), water, light, candles, and new fire (the Eastern and Western Christian Churches). It is so real we Filipinos even engage in acts that border on the dramatic. In our penchant for re-enactments; in our entertainment-crazed culture that prizes living tableaus, we even take resort to stage-like living presentations of what we consider so real as to affect life in concrete; as to affect our emotional state as dictated by what we hold as true. In many, many places all over the country, the early dawn procession called the “salubong,” that re-enacts that supposed ecstatic moment of encounter between Mary and her Risen Son, takes place today with all the pomp and pageantry possible within people’s limited means.

Indeed, what is more real than people hoping and believing that life, in this world, could still be better? What is more real than people ever expecting that despite all the death, decay, and destruction that take place in our terrorized world everywhere in the planet, people can still dream of waking up in order to smell the flowers? What is more real than people, who, despite their jaded dreams, can still find meaning hidden behind such simple stuff like painted eggs, jumping bunnies, preening peacocks, and a huge lighted candle that wades down the aisle of a darkened Church during Easter Vigil?

On what is this reality based? What is behind such formidable hopes of peoples and nations? What explains this steadfast holding on to perpetual newness that even bombs, tsunamis, and terrorism cannot quell? Isn’t this a case of what C.S. Lewis refers to as either based on “lunacy or lies?” Let us take a short summative look at what we have been doing together over the past three days.

Last Thursday, we did an act of remembering. Through our own Passover meal, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we did a memorial and a proclamation in celebration of the fact that it is God who passes over and saves us “through the blood of the Lamb,” Jesus Christ His Son. On Good Friday, we stood witness at the foot of the cross to the fact that Jesus Himself is our Passover sacrifice, On this night of all nights, we proclaim once again, and celebrate our own passing over from death into life, in union with the same Christ, dead and risen.

In these post 9/11 times of digital images, identity-verifying iris scans, and redundant identity checks at airports all over the world, the painstaking search for evidences seem to be the name of the game. One is held suspect until proven otherwise. We live now, by sight, not by faith. Specially trained people who man the X-Ray machines examine every baggage, every satchel, every container, while personnel press and pat everyone who passes under metal and bomb detecting panels. The watchword nowadays simply put, is: to see is to believe. There is nothing like evidence that stands the test of sight, and one’s word of honor may not be good enough anymore for those in charge of “homeland security.”

If we go by this rule of “sight,” that focuses on external evidence, our celebration tonight (today) may, indeed, be either born of “lunacy or lies.” The Matthean account read in the vigil Mass is really no account at all, in today’s litigious and court-trial-crazed culture. No one, not a single one claims he saw Jesus rise from the dead. No, not even Mary of Magdala who came early morning only to see an empty tomb.

But people who followed the Lord, and who were ready and willing to “go and die with him,” who narrated the Christian story from the very beginning, operate from a different perspective. They go, not primarily by sight, but by faith. They based their account on something that went beyond sight, something that transcended material and physical evidence without throwing away such evidences altogether.

Our Christian narrators and story-tellers, beginning from the surprised women, the disciples, and all who “saw and believed,” were basing themselves on both “sight and memory.” For those who saw material events and evidences, the important watchword was very simply this: to believe is to see!

Sight and memory …. What was there in what disciples and loving followers of the Risen Lord saw that told them what they saw was real? What was there in what they saw and remembered that convinced them that, indeed, what they were seeing was not a ghost, but a Risen Body?

It all boils down to the “remembering and the doing” that we all have been engaged in over these past three days. What have we done? For one, we have done the memorial of him whose pesach (transition) from death to life has brought heretofore unheard of meaning and promise to our existence as human beings created unto God’s image and likeness. We recalled to mind, and celebrated in our own lives, the pesach of the Israelites of old from slavery to freedom, from bondage to liberty, and our own crossing over (Passover) from a life of sin to a life of grace. What absolute newness this brings about! … Newness of life, under the sway of the new law of Christ, Son and Savior!

Newness brings about fresh readings to reality, the type of freshness that only poets who see beyond evidences can give expression to, and write on. It is no wonder that this Christian story of pesach spills over, and finds expression in poetry, full as this story is, of promise, of hope, of joy, and effusive gladness of heart. Mindful that the story of the Resurrection of Christ is not just “old-wives tale,” and “telenovela material,” or gossip fare from snoopy women out for a morning stroll, John Updike writes in his “Seven Stanzas at Easter:”
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
Faded credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
Grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel …

The Christian story of the Lord’s resurrection that we celebrate to the full, born of sight and memory, does not come from “lunacy or lies.” It comes from the remembering and the doing in the context of celebration of God’s own doing … His loving and saving act for us all frail women and men, His beloved sons and daughters, in and through Christ. He is our pesach, our transition from a life of sin to a life of grace. His coming brought meaning to human existence, the poetry of the life of believers, who, because they believe, also see more than just a story, but a promise of presence, a promise of real hopes, a promise that “He will be with [us] until the end of days,” a promise that in the poetic lines of Manley-Hopkins, “in a flash, at a trumpet crash, this Jack, joke, poor potsherd, will become in God’s eyes, what in God’s eyes He is, immortal diamond, is immortal diamond.”

I end with the words of promise from another earlier poet, St. John Chrysostom:

Christ is Risen, and you, O Death are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
For Christ, having risen from the dead
Is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

With poetry and promise like these, what need we fear as we go through our own pesach experience of life in the real world of pain and utter possibility?

HAPPY EASTER TO ONE AND ALL!

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