An article in the Sun yesterday quoted a recent Canada-wide survey that found that a majority of Canadians do not consider religion important to them. Only 62% of British Columbians say they believe in God and only 37% professed that religion was important to them. The author goes on to say that “Our population is more spiritual, if you like, than actually religious in an organized fashion.” Let us hope that those who do not believe in God are those who have heard the message that is poor gospel preaching, about a God who delights to punish and equally delights to reward “goodie two shoes”. To reject that caricature of God is the first step to true faith. I have a poster at the entrance: “Questions do not destroy faith. Easy answers do.”
Today’s Province quotes Reginald Bibby as saying that a sizable number are open to greater involvement with organized religion but “They have to find that their participation matters, that what takes place has an impact on their lives and the lives of the people they care most about.”
We live in a skeptical age. God never overpowers, never twists arms, never pushes your face into something so as to take away your freedom. God respects our freedom and is never a coercive force.
And nowhere is this more true than in what is revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels assure us that the resurrection was real, not just some alteration inside the consciousness of believers. After the resurrection, we are assured, Jesus' tomb was empty, people could touch him, he ate food with them, he was not a ghost. Yet things were not so obvious and unmistakable. His rising from the dead was not a brute slap in the face to his critics, a non-negotiable fact that left skeptics with nothing to say. There was always a “yes! But!” “Yes it was the same Jesus. I saw his wounds, but he just appeared on the road.” “Yes, we ate fish with him by the lakeside, but we were afraid to ask if he was the Lord for we knew it was him.”
After he rose from the dead, Jesus was seen by some, but not by others; understood by some, but not by others. Some got his meaning and it changed their lives, others were indifferent to him, and still others understood what had happened, hardened their hearts against it, and tried to destroy its truth.
Why the difference? What makes some see the resurrection while others do not? What lets some understand the mystery and embrace it, while others are left in indifference or hatred?
I think it has a lot to do with getting out of the head and into the heart. Mysteries can only be seen by the heart! Hugo of St. Victor used to say: Love is the eye! When we look at anything through the eyes of love, we see correctly, understand, and properly appropriate its mystery. We are capable of awe!
We see this in how the Gospel of John describes the events of Easter Sunday. We know that among those who remained faithful to the end and stood at the foot of the Cross were Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and
Jesus has risen, but, first of all, only the person who is driven by love, Mary Magdala, goes out in search of him. The others remain as they are, locked inside their own worlds. But love seeks out its beloved and Mary Magdala goes out, spices in hand, wanting at least to embalm his dead body.
Our Easter Gospel is a story of Hide and Go Seek. Mary Magdala goes to the tomb and finds emptiness. The stone has been removed from the burial opening and Jesus is gone. When she informs Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, they run and find emptiness as well, except they find evidence that Jesus had been there in a burial posture. It is this “seeking” which is so central to Easter grace.
The disciple whom Jesus loved out-runs Peter and gets to the tomb first, but he doesn't enter, he waits for Peter with his authority, to go in first. Peter enters the empty tomb, sees the linens that had covered the body of Jesus, but does not understand. Then the beloved disciple, love, enters. He sees and he does understand. Love grasps the mystery. Love is the eye. It is what lets us see and understand the resurrection.
After the resurrection, some saw Jesus but others did not. Some understood the resurrection while others did not. Those with the eyes of love saw and understood. Those without the eyes of love either didn't see anything or were perplexed or upset by what they did see.
John stayed by the Cross and is therefore not tainted by any denial of Jesus and he was the first to believe. John is trying to convince his readers. He is stating that he was there, he saw the empty tomb and, more than this, when he saw it he believed. He is telling us that at the moment when he was faced with the empty tomb he immediately drew the conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he believed this instantly and absolutely. Here are simple words that we can resonate with, ‘he saw and he believed.’ Even if we ourselves haven’t actually seen then maybe we can still believe. That’s the invitation that’s open to us today, on this Easter morning; to believe, to profess our faith in Christ and in his resurrection. “That we might find him He is finite. That we might seek Him once we have found Him, He is infinite.”
C. S. Lewis, in his book, “Surprised By Joy”, writes that real joy is more in the seeking than the finding. This truth has confirmation in our lives. What do we find when we find what we have been seeking? Eventually we will find that every answer leads to the next question. Every good and more than wonderful experience, relationship, ecstasy, does end or has certain little holes in them. So there is an empty tomb in all of life’s joys that invites us to “seek” and you shall find. What will we find? We will gracefully discover the invitation to seek some more. We are believers because we do not know, but we grow more deeply as humans the more we keep reaching towards, looking for, hungering after. This is the human experience not just of Church-goers but the two thirds not involved in organized religion.
“Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, alleluia; therefore let us keep the feast with unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia, alleluia.”