Christ has risen from the dead! The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community… (CCC 638). He who embraced the simple and confounded the wise suffered for the sins of all and conquered death itself. All that was foretold, He did. All that He promised, He fulfilled. This isn’t allegory. It’s history. It’s truth.
Jesus didn’t just die for our sins and that was the end. He finished His task and opened the way for us to follow Him. In communion with Him, He sanctified our suffering.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church… (Col 1:24).
It isn’t that Christ didn’t suffer enough—as if by suffering more we wouldn’t have to suffer. No. What Christ did is so complete it may be repeated in us. What was done to Jesus, the Head of the body is repeated in the Church, His mystical body. He sanctified our suffering and gave it meaning. Now, where once we suffered in misery, we may endure our suffering in joy for the Kingdom. Uniting our suffering with His is an offering in communion with His.
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it (1 Cor 12:27).
As God used Moses to part the waters so Israel could pass from slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land, Jesus opened the way to Heaven by His cross and Resurrection. We follow Him across the waters of Baptism to new life in Him. We die to our old selves as He did on the cross and are reborn a new creation. It isn’t a symbolic rebirth awaiting a fuller realization in Heaven, it is true adoption into the life of the Holy Trinity.
Baptism, the original and full sign of which is immersion, efficaciously signifies the descent into the tomb by the Christian who dies to sin with Christ in order to live a new life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (CCC 628 [Rom 6:4; cf. Col 2:12; Eph 5:26]).
Adoption can only occur within species that share the same nature. The modern world may pretend we can adopt our pets but that is not a true adoption. In order to adopt us into His family our Lord gave us His nature through Baptism that we might share in His divinity and truly be His children.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him… that we might no longer be in slavery to sin (Rom 6:5-6).
In the desert beyond the parted sea, the Israelites expressed their displeasure with God and grumbled against Him for want of their old lives where they at least had food to eat. It was slavery but their bellies were full.
Here in the wilderness the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!” (Ex 16:2-3).
Don’t we do the same today? After completing a season of self-denial in Lent, we tend to return to our old ways in Easter. What had been a season of decreasing ourselves and increasing Christ in us gives way to selfishness once again. It’s familiar to us. Even if it means a return to slavery, at least it’s a slavery we understand. If I may be permitted an imperfect analogy… the diet is over, how long will I still be able to fit my pants if I haven’t learned better habits?
This brings us to the ultimate question of faith… why. Why do we turn our eyes from the world toward Heaven? Why do we sacrifice here for glory there? Why do we practice self-denial when we are surrounded by plenty? Those who treat Lent as an imposition on their lives will not find a satisfactory answer to these questions. For them, the why is simply because they were told to do it.
Self-denial isn’t an occasional act for a follower of Christ. Lent isn’t simply a season to be endured and then forgotten. Both are occasions for communion with our Lord. Do we truly want this communion to end? What does that say about our hearts? Our Lord told us the greatest commandment:
Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30).
In our sacrifice and self-denial we learn to love. Love requires at least two parties—one to give and one to receive. The one who gives sacrifices for the one who receives and the receiver knows gratitude in the offering. It’s a moral transaction. In our self-indulgence and selfishness, we learn to hate those who would take from us what we want. That’s an immoral worldview.
In our Lord’s teaching above, we can see a progression from the heart, through the soul, to the mind, and then to our bodies (strength). All that we do originates in the heart. If our heart is full of ourselves, then our pursuits will be for self-satisfaction. If our hearts are for God alone, we seek to accomplish His will.
With all vigilance guard your heart,
for in it are the sources of life (Prov 4:23).
Hope springs from the heart, faith from the soul, determination from the mind, and action from the body (strength). Every action we undertake begins with the heart because the heart stirs the soul; the soul inspires the mind; the mind moves the body; and the body works in the vineyards of the Lord.
That progression works in the other direction as well. By disciplining our flesh, mind, and spirit, we guide our thoughts, move our soul, and change our hearts. That’s the purpose of Lent. Through fasting, almsgiving, and prayer we deny our fleshly desires, the wants of our minds, and humble ourselves before God. Why would we want this to end when Lent is over? Lent is a time of self-renewal not just a time of self-denial. We become what God wants us to be… not just for a time but for eternity. These seasons of self-denial come periodically to reorient our lives and hearts and renew our walk in sanctity like a Hot Wheels car coming to a boost station. It keeps us moving forward.
When our hearts are set on God and His Kingdom, we learn to love who He loves… and there is the second greatest commandment:
“The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).
This love doesn’t spring from self-adoration. We love ourselves in the ways we provide for our needs. We are to do the same for others. Where we see a need for food and shelter, may we be moved to provide. Where we see a need for belonging, may we be welcoming. Where we hear questions, may we give answers. Where our neighbors seek the love of God, may they find us to be people of love after His own identity.
The two greatest commandments fulfill the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. Did you think that we, as New Testament people, were no longer required to adhere to those strictures? Jesus didn’t do away with them, He doubled-down on them! What was once a system of “thou shalt nots” is now a system of love with much greater intent and obligation. The first of the greatest commandments is embodied in the first three of the Ten Commandments and concerns our relationship with God. The second of the greatest commandments is embodied in the other seven of the Ten Commandments and concerns our relationship with our neighbor. Just as Lent is a season of self-denial meant to give way to a season of joy in Easter so were the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments meant to give way to love. The obligation isn’t taken away by the cross. We take on new life and greater obligation in fulfillment.
In the commandments, we see a vertical beam in our relationship with God and a horizontal beam in our relationship with each other. These are the beams of the cross given to us in Baptism. The cross we carry is the burden to love… it requires self-sacrifice. We may see the bloodied image of our Lord on the cross and see Good Friday as a day of mourning. Yet it is through this glorious image of the love of God that we find our Easter joy. We have been raised to a new and eternal life! Through our own sacrifices may we be conduits of joy to a world filled with sorrow. Let us spread our arms wide in embrace of the cross and live the commandments to love without measure.
Easter has come! Our Lord is risen. We have been redeemed. Now, the real fun begins…
We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song! (Pope St John Paul II)