It has been two weeks since we celebrated the magnificent Easter ceremonies. We remembered our story, we prayed our hearts out, we took part in the Vigil liturgy as best we could. And then there was the bank holiday and soon we were all back at work as usual. The paschal banquet of sublime mystery was over for another year.
But have our lives since been different because of it? Do we have a clearer vision, a sense of universal belonging, an enriching of the mystery in us? Or have we participated in the religious ritual of the greatest revelation of all time- and carried on exactly as before? Have we had the experience but missed the deeper meaning?
‘Easter certainly does not mean that Jesus’s corpse was resuscitated to resume life in our present state of biological existence, along the lines of the Lazarus story’, writes theologian Elizabeth Johnson. Neither has it to do with a flawed theory of atonement by Jesus to his father for an original sin of Adam and Eve, or a personal reward for his suffering, or a proof that he was God.
A new dynamism, a profound significance is now needed to enliven the waning tradition of the perennial Vigil celebration. There is a central dimension of the Easter ceremonies that we mostly miss – its relevance for all humanity since time began, to the end moment, when God will be, ‘ all in all.’ ( 1 Corinthians 15:28). Beyond the redemption of the individual soul Easter foretells the final rising, ‘the making new of all creation’, in the cosmic Christ (Revelation 21: 5)
As scientific wonders unfold, the paschal mystery is being explored for its hitherto unrecognised treasures of revelation and wisdom. It is this kind of reflection, of wondering, that ideally would live on in our hearts when the actual Triduum rituals are over. How can the universe story be integrated with the raising of Christ, drawing us all into a deeper and loving relationship with our planet, inspiring in us a more urgent sense of responsibility for it and for its inhabitants? The Exultet itself deliberately welcomes, ‘this truly blessed night when heaven is wedded to earth’.
In his book The Eternal Year, theologian Karl rahner writes, ‘in his risen body Christ has already begun to transform the world into himself, giving meaning and direction to evolution. It is now on earth that is transfigured, an earth that is set free, that is untwisted, an earth that is redeemed forever from death and futility . . . he rose, not to show that he was God, but to prove that he has definitively transformed this earth into the glorious, immeasurable dwelling of the living God.’
But the final hymn was barely ended when the media reminded us of continuing atrocities and disasters, of a since old world still full of darkness as the works of evil continued to desecrate our holy earthly home. In light of this terrible reality, Rahner calls for the deepening of our faith. ‘The Risen Christ is the history of the earth, whose blind course with all its victories and its crushing defeats, steers with uncanny precision towards the days when his splendour, transforming everything, will erupt out of the earth’s own depths.’
What becomes clearer as we mine the paschal mystery for more meaning, is the height and depth of God’s incarnatehorizon, the divine imprint in the tiniest atom, the heavenly flourish of infinity painted against the magnificence of space. We are transported into a place with another view, an understanding that is the only now possible. What stirs in all our post paschal contemplation is a glimpse of the origins and destiny of a love filled creation, of the breath-taking Alpha and Omega of our human quest. We reflect on the liturgy we have celebrated and feel drawn into this startling dance of the Blessed Trinity throughout the earth, and into this artistic vision of God’s poetry flowing across the pages of science and scripture.
After a 10 year journey, the Rosetta spacecraft camera has landed on comet 67P. NASA’s Kepler telescope has recently revealed the existence of earth-like planets 117 light years away. Last month CERN, the European particle physics laboratory ,switched its large Hadron Collider back on. They all seek to explain some of the mysteries of our universe. Can we attempt to hold these increasing scientific breakthroughs together with an understanding of Rahner’s belief that, ‘Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection of all flesh culminating in the universal Easter of the cosmos’?
Can the Christian respect and honour the scientists, the physicist, the cosmologist as partakers in the work of saving the earth, of completing and perfecting it? Can they be seen as priests of creation, secular savers saviours bringing the bread of science and the wine of the spirit together on the same holy work table of the resurrecting action of the Holy Spirit? Jesus rose in his body and lives forever united with the flesh. Herein lies the hinge of hope for all physical beings, for all evolving process is the path through death. Ambrose of Milan wrote, ‘In Christ’s resurrection the earth itself arose’.
With hindsight, do we now thrill to the evolving meaning of Easter’s magnificent liturgy? The church was singing to the earth! Our abused, beautiful and painfully evolving planet, so ill and feverish’, in the Pope’s words, needs to know that it is to the beloved of its mother God. Easter guarantees that all creation is groaning for completion, is being borne forward in an astonishing promise of future glory. ‘ecological awareness in our age’, writes Johnson, ‘is bringing back into theological focus the biblical hope for the whole world’s redemption.’
Over 100 years ago Barbara McPhee of Dreimsdale recalled the moment she and friends gathered before dawn on Easter Sunday to wait for the rising Celtic sun over the timeless hills. It rose in the cosmic colours of its own salvation and transformation.
‘It was damn thing up and down’, she said, ‘in pure joy before the Risen Son of God’
Tablet article, April 2015.