We Will Not See The Perfection & Harmony For Which We Long In This Life - Easter 27 March 2016
Easter – 27 March 2016
In the ancient Epistle for this day St. Paul writes:
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
He reminds us that Easter is the Church’s Passover – the Paschal Feast. As the Jewish Passover celebrates liberation from slavery in Egypt, Christ’s Passover is our liberation from sin and death and from the emptiness and atheism of our times. In most Christian languages Easter and Passover are the same word.
Paul in this brief passage combines the two key aspects of the Passover – the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb and the eating of unleavened bread for a week. He uses the Passover imagery to advance his argument against the misconduct of the mostly Gentile Christian community at Corinth.
The leaven of malice and wickedness was running rampant at Corinth – divisions, disputes, a divided Eucharist, sexual immorality, idolatry, and a loopy spirituality that denied the resurrection. They had it all – a mere twenty-five years after the resurrection, perhaps ten years after the first proclamation of the Gospel they managed to become the worst church ever. And Paul’s efforts are only partly successful. About forty years later in the 90’s, Pope Clement I writes them to address another division among them.
We need to be reminded of this. Many of us get discouraged about the condition of the Church, of the world, of our own souls. There is plenty of reason, but we need to purge out the old leaven of imagining that all would be well if everybody else would just behave. Purge out the old leaven of blaming and denial.
Christ has defeated the powers of sin, death and the devil. They will not prevail, but they are still there to challenge and test us. Until the Kingdom comes they remain to conduct a guerilla war, a terrorist campaign against the Gospel, against Christ and his Church, and against human good. We will not see the perfection and harmony for which we long in this life.
And there are some other forms of the old leaven that need to be purged. These are things we can easily absorb from the culture around us.
The culture is insanely cynical. Even comedians today are not so much funny as cynical, sarcastic, and ironic. There are no Lucille Ball’s or Red Skeltons. The world does not recognize that Christ is risen and therefore assumes that malice and wickedness are in the end the true rulers, the true powers with which we need to compromise. The world around us says that there is no real possibility of human greatness. The air we breathed is toxic with cynicism and despair.
We can easily give in. But we must not. We are called to keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. We who receive the bread from heaven are called to believe that we can live up to the standards to which the Lord calls us. And if we stumble, we are accompanied by others who show us that it can be done – the saints like Paul himself, like Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, and her four sisters just martyred, and the great cloud of witnesses past and present. God calls us to greatness, to communion with himself. We are not alone in striving for it.
We are called to see the truth about ourselves – that we are sinners, to be sure, but that we are called to be lively, joyous, and strong disciples of the risen Christ.
And there is one more big chunk of old leaven that on this day especially needs to be purged out. That is the prejudice of the Enlightenment against all things supernatural. It is the false view of reason that will not ascend beyond what can be seen and measured. Our era is crippled by a truncated, crippled reason that will not follow where its own questions go – to the great questions of eternal truth, of purpose, of miracle and of God. It is a reason that can analyze the stars but can see no meaning in the human soul. The ancient pagan philosophers knew that questions of truth, of human purpose and of God were the questions that mattered. Too many people in our era think that all any problem needs is a technological fix. And so they keep failing.
It is this prejudice that blinds so many to the reality of the resurrection. It is this prejudice that can weaken our faith or at least weaken our ability to let the full power and joy and hope of Jesus’ resurrection shape our lives. The difficulties that the modern mind imposes upon belief in the resurrection should not frighten us because reason rightly used is open to truths that transcend our ordinary experience. But beyond that ordinary reasoning, employed without prejudice, opens the door to faith:
Bishop Robert Barron recently summarized the ideas N.T. Wright, the great English New Testament scholar and defender of the reality of the resurrection, this way. It is a response to the idea of some theologians that Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead but sort of rose into the hearts and minds of his disciples:
When a first century Jew spoke of resurrection, he could not have meant some non-bodily state of affairs. Jews simply didn’t think [like that.] … Wright argues that, simply on historical grounds, it is practically impossible to explain the rise of the early Christian movement apart from a very [realistic understanding] of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For a first-century Jew, the clearest possible indication that someone was not the promised Messiah would be his death at the hands of Israel’s enemies, for the … clear expectation was that the Messiah would conquer and finally deal with the enemies of the nation.
Peter, Paul, James, Andrew, and the rest could have coherently proclaimed—and gone to their deaths defending—a crucified Messiah if and only if he had risen from the dead. Can we really imagine Paul tearing into Athens or Corinth or Ephesus with the breathless message that he found a dead man deeply inspiring or that he and the other Apostles had felt forgiven by a crucified criminal? In the context of that time and place, no one would have taken him seriously.
But they did take him seriously because Jesus appeared to them. Paul writes to us as he does because Jesus overwhelmed all Paul’s difficulties and doubts and his bloody hostility to the Church when he confronted him personally on the road to Damascus. The women and the disciples are simply overwhelmed and convinced by the empty tomb and their encounters with the risen Christ.
So should we be. So can we be. The twenty-first century knows nothing that can disprove the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The notion that such things can’t happen is just a modern prejudice – of which there are many.
But the real proof in the end is inside you. Do you believe enough to purge out the old leaven of malice and wickedness and to celebrate the feast with the new leaven of sincerity and truth? The Spirit says you can. St. Paul says you can. Christ, our Passover Lamb who is risen, says you can.
It is to that constant renewal of our faith and life that this day calls us. Allow the leaven of sincerity and truth, the leaven of Jesus’ resurrection, the leaven of faith, hope and charity to enter into the lump of your heart. Do not fear the errors and follies of the age. Jesus lives forever; they don’t. Look into the empty tomb with Peter and John, and know that God, who is all good, wins in the end. Look into your heart and continue the purging that Lent began because Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us. Because of that it is not human sin and failure that will prevail but the mercy of God.