Sunday, April 4, 2010

Resurrection Life: "Awfully Different"

Ida Friederike Görres (1907-1971), a writer of German and Japanese origin, speaks in her journals about Holy Week and the mystery of the Resurrection. She laments over how "utterly inadequate" she feels in the face of it. She describes it as "momentous, like the Niagara Falls is thundering down, right beside me, and there I stand, with a thimble in my hand, and I'm supposed to dip in and collect something, catch it up, assimilate it, reacting properly, goodness knows how...

My guess is that we all feel or have felt a bit like that. It's probably why the Church gives a whole week to reflect on and pray over the inexpressable thing which Jesus did for us. "The only hope," says Görres, "of scooping anything at all [with our thimble under this great "waterfall"] is to hold the cup up carefully at the very edge, under a lost thin trickle." Even though she can catch almost nothing, she reasons, "maybe this helpless state of just standing aside, this overpowering sense of not being able to do anything about it is the only sort of adoration I'm allowed just now. One's eyes closed, turned away, -- this, too, is one way of divining the immensity of this tremendous mystery..."

Ida Görres cautions us that we cannot do this just as individuals, but that you and I pass through the Easter Mystery as a community of faith. The reign of God proclaimed by Jesus to be "here", to be "within you", is precisely Jesus Himself, risen from death, present with and around and in us: truly Man and truly God, with us at the center of the communion of saints: Emmanuel. Visualize, if you will, the figure of the Risen Christ, with the fresh wounds of the Cross, standing in the midst of the Church today, reaching backward to touch the immense "cloud of witnesses" who've gone before us, and reaching forward to touch the yet-to-be-born millions of servants of the living God who'll come after us. As we each look at the few drops of what we can gather and grasp of the incomprehensible mystery of Christ's resurrection, we need to recognize that we're never engaged in the struggle to understand alone. What you and I don't yet know of God-with-us suffering, dying, and rising, Martin Smith reminds us, our sisters and brothers the world over "are coming to know in the crucibles of suffering". And through the communion of the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, you and I are able to share "what they through their suffering and faith have brought up from the depths of their experience...", and vice versa.

The Spirit reveals to all God's people, even through our pain and prayer, "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love God" (1 Corinthians 2:9). As the Church, we and millions of others around the world whose faith is being tried through suffering carry anonymously and silently in our hearts their knowledge that the Risen One "...with the pierced hands" as Smith observes, "has kept them company in the worst that can befall humankind."

In 1987, at St. John's, Chico, CA, I buried a man about a week before Easter, and I thought to myself, "How sad for this family to lose a husband and father and relative just at a time when nature is shouting 'new life' to us, and when we who follow Jesus are about to celebrate again his resounding victory over death." A week after the burial, on Good Friday, I received a note from his widow who wrote: "...I told our son that life was going to be awful without his father. He corrected me saying, 'No, it is not going to be awful; it will be awfully different...'" That's about as close as one might get to capturing the essence of what Easter is. "Christ has died, Christ is risen," and our lives are "awfully different"!

It's precisely in the midst of our deepest fears and our greatest joys that the Risen Jesus meets us, as he did Mary Magdalene. He recognizes us, greets us, lovingly speaks our name, reassures us, loves us: despite all our neediness and unsophistication. And as we commune with, worship, pray to him, Jesus himself comforts us by saying, "Don't be afraid". And he sends us along to others with the Good News that he's alive, and pledges to us that, even in and through our bumbling witness he will be seen and recognized.

Among the books written by Ida Görres is The Hidden Face, likely the best biography of the great modern Carmelite saint, Thérèse Martin of Lisieux. In that biography Görres talks about the "...ancient, original, Gospel concept of sanctity, of the baptized Christian whose whole life reflects Christ in all its elements, who is saintly not because [one] does or says special things, which sets [one] off from others, but because [one] is a tiny member of Christ present in the world and because [one] endeavors to walk worthily in the path of [one's] vocation..." That's another way of saying that we share the little drops of our "thimble" under the waterfall with all those who come into our life.

The Risen Jesus has made your life and mine "awfully different", even though it may seem very unspectacular and ordinary to us. But "The reign of God is here, within you", Jesus told us, because "I am with you always...

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