CHRISTIANITY (when its heart is pure) can be an exquisitely beautiful religion, perhaps especially in its Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican expressions. And all of its beauty: its teachings, liturgy, music and poetry, the stories of its saints, its shrines and churches - all of this in one way or another issues from the Easter Feast: Jesus Risen from Death; now Lord of Life!
Now it is Monday in the Easter Octave, the first eight days of the long Easter Season. Each day's prayers speak in the present moment, an overflow of Sunday itself: "Today..." and "This is the day..." The women at the tomb are fresh in our minds. Since Good Friday these women have been doing the things of practical love for Jesus. They have been preparing the spices they will need to embalm His body on Sunday, as He had to be buried quickly on Friday at sundown, the start of the no-work Sabbath.
But while they love Jesus, and are doing what they can, they are also resigned to death. "Who will roll away the stone for us?" they ask along the way. They expect to encounter death. These women are not to be criticized; they are each of us.
We're resigned to death. We learn about yet another massacre and we feel sad or angry for awhile, but then our elected leadership can't pass even the simplest and most obvious restrictions or laws that might limit the death and damage brought about by the next Newtown-type shooter.
And there is talk of war with North Korea and Iran. For now we watch the practice war on television. The rockets blast the mountains and the ocean where the birds, schools of fish and other animals live, the trees and plants and even the tiniest living things in the water and soil. We're so resigned to death, we don't give a thought to any of this.
But in the conversation with the bright angel who sits on the tomb's great sealing-stone, the headstone as it were, the women are told otherwise - not to be resigned to death. Here is one of the many hymns the Eastern Church sings about these Spice-Bearing women and the angel of Easter morning. But go back first and notice in the icon that the angel is smiling while greeting the women and delivering the curse-breaking message:
Having heard from the angel
the glad tidings of the Resurrection,
and that the ancient curse was done away,
the women disciples of the Lord
cried exultingly unto the apostles:
"Death is no more,
and Christ our God is Risen,
granting to the world great mercy."
Jesus has established the principle that death is defeated. A principle is real, not just imagining or theorizing. And death is much more than simply the stopping of heart and brain function before we're put in the ground. Death is also whatever prevents us from our realizing that we are God's own dear children. Death is also whatever keeps us from evolving into real human persons. All of us!
In the icon of the previous post, The Descent into Hades, we see a charred figure tied up in the darkest depths of the chasm. This is the lord of death, the prince of darkness, the master of the underworld, the menacer and preventer - you name it! Defeated.
And Jesus, in His most kind and gentle mercy, His bending, lifts us up, elevates and escorts us to the things of life. Father Gregory Krug (1908-1969) expressed this beautifully in his Easter icon shown here.
I can't think of anything that's more important than this. And we can live out this death-is-defeated principle by our own practical upholding of life wherever we encounter it. Saint Francis picked up worms from the road and placed them in adjacent fields. Indeed, the Dali Lama says, "If you want to start becoming a non-violent person, stop killing insects." That's easy to do.
and Christ our God is Risen,
granting to the world great mercy.