Easter - Confronted with Life
A woman in Ohio had the unusual experience of having her husband show up several years after he had been declared dead. The husband’s car had been found on the shore of Lake Erie with a suicide note taped to the steering wheel. He was presumed drowned, although his body was not found. The woman remarried. Then her first husband showed up; he had only faked the suicide and had run off to another state. “I wish he hadn’t shown up,” the distraught woman said, but still she was confronted with his life and had to deal with his reappearance. She had adjusted to his death and now she was confronted with his life.
On a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago, a woman in Israel was faced with a somewhat similar situation. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus “early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). After alerting Simon Peter and another disciple, Mary Magdalene returned and waited outside the tomb as the two men entered. While she stood there weeping, “she turned around and saw Jesus standing but she did not know that it was Jesus” (verse 14). She thought it was the gardener and asked if he had removed the body. Jesus identified himself to the astonished woman. Like the woman in Ohio, Mary Magdalene had adjusted to death, but was confronted by life. Her Lord had come back from the dead.
Easter confronts all of us with life. It has since that first Easter dawn. Mary Magdalene represents us all in that the Resurrection confronts us with life. This is the message that was preached from that morning on. The disciples and apostles immediately began to present this message to the world. Read the sermons by Peter and the other apostles in the Book of Acts and every sermon is basically the same message: confronting people with the Resurrection – with life – and asking them to choose between life and death. Paul preached the same message of resurrection and life, and went so far as to say that without the Resurrection all preaching was in vain.
The message is the same on this Easter Day. We’re still confronted by life. Life confronts us through a fresh opportunity. Life confronts us through a new love that comes into our life. Life confronts us in the way of a gift – an inheritance, perhaps, or a grant or a scholarship. Life confronts us through a challenge. Life confronts us in a release from a burden of affliction.
How one responds when life confronts one makes all the difference in the world. Take that last one we mentioned, “Life confronts us in the release from a burden or affliction.” An illustration of how one can respond to the fresh confrontation with life is found in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s book Wind, Sand and Stars. The central character is an Arab called Bark, who was kidnapped into slavery. He learned to tremble at a handclap and to come lumbering on command. One day a kind friend purchased his freedom, provided him with money, and sent him on his way. He was then confronted with life. At first Bark tried to act out all the dreams of freedom he had harbored as a slave. He went to a restaurant and paid a waiter to wait on him. He bought a woman and bid her please him. But his dreams were soon used up, and freedom became a fearful burden. Then he happened on a tearful child and with the child, searched the city to secure a consoling toy. This was it. For the rest of his life Bark gave his freedom as a willing slave to the ragtaggle kids of the street. He found the life that confronted him.
Do we recognize life when it confronts us?
A man, weary of wife and children, is attracted to that pert and pretty woman at work. Ah! New life confronts him, he thinks. But is it not the wife who has truly confronted life in faithfully keeping a home, preparing three meals a day for him and their children, day after day, without complaint, whether she feels refreshed or tired?
A new position opens for a woman who works for a company that appreciated her intelligence and ability. She sees an opportunity to advance her own lifestyle as well as the cause of women in the workplace. At last, she is confronted with life, she believes. But is not perhaps the worker who has lost steady employment and income, who perseveres in the discouraging search for a new position, does the odd job here or there and watches savings diminish . . . that is truly confronting life?
A student is accepted into a popular circle at school and prides him or herself on fun parties and witty repartee. Finally, the student who has up-til’-now had to look in from the outside, believes he or she is going to taste the good life. But is it not the struggling student, putting in extra hours at the books, missing a party or football game because of dedication to becoming a competent and qualified professional the one who is really confronting life?
Life confronts … not in an affair, not in a career, not in popularity and parties . . . these can lead to death, but in the way of the Cross and Resurrection.
In Morris West’s novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman, there is a great scene where the Pope goes through the poorer section of Rome incognito. As he is walking along, a door of an apartment house opens, and a man rushes out, runs into the Pope, and almost knocks him down. The man utters an apology, and then, as he catches sight of the cassock, says curtly: “There’s a man dying up there. Maybe you can do more for him that I can.”
“Who are you?” asks the Pope. “A doctor,” the man replies. “They never call us until it’s too late.”
The Pope goes into the house and finds a man who is obviously near death. He is alone except for a young woman nurse attending him. The Pope tries to talk to him, but is unable to get any response at all. The girl says: “It’s no use, Father. He’s too far gone to hear you.” The Pope pronounces the absolution and kneels to pray. Soon the man is dead. The woman says: “We should go, Father. Neither of us will be welcome now.”
“I would like to help the family,” says the Pontiff. “We should go,” the woman says again. Then she adds, in what is one of the most poignant lines of the book: “They can cope with death. It’s only living that defeats them.”
It may be a new emphasis that the Resurrection comes to us with a very frightening idea. We can adjust ourselves to dying: however, what if we do not die, but live? The victory of the gospel is nowhere more apparent than in its ability to help us confront God’s gift of life and accept it.
This life that confronts us at Easter is not just life for life’s sake, like daffodils in the spring. Life devoted only to life is animal without much real human value, incapable of preserving us permanently from weariness and the feeling that all is vanity. Easter life is more than that. If life is to be fully human it must serve some end which seems, in some sense, outside human life, some end which is impersonal and above humankind, such as God and truth. This is the life that confronts us at Easter.