One thing I love about Easter Sunday is the packed church at prime-time Masses. I am amazed that, after all the world has been through, people still celebrate an event the likes of which, as far as we know, has not happened since. It’s amazing that, after centuries of “enlightened” skepticism about anything supernatural, people still celebrate the most supernatural proposition of all: a man who claimed to be the Son of God was executed (Roman fashion), rose from the dead, revealed his glorified Self to believers for forty days, ascended to Heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit. This claim brings out all kinds of well-dressed people to its equally baffling sequel: Catholic Mass.
Overflowing Easter Masses make the regulars ask, “Where did they all come from?” There’s no point in trying to figure it out. The reason why so many people come out for Easter may not be the “reason” we or they think. The Resurrection did something to all of us, no matter what we believe and no matter what our reasons may be for doing anything. Without being judgmental, I think it’s fair to say that there are many reluctant tag-alongs and drag-alongs at Easter Masses. It’s not hard to imagine:
He drove in from Cleveland with the wife and kids on Good Friday to visit his Catholic in-laws. His mother-in-law let him have it on Easter Sunday: “Put your yellow bow tie on and get your a** in the car! We’re going to Mass and brunch!”
It may be a drag, but so what? Such a “reason” for going to Mass may not be the best, but it’s good enough, like a C-. Providence works in the most unlikely ways. From God’s vantage point, there may be reasons for going to Easter Mass that neither the son-in-law nor the mother-in-law are aware of. Providence and grace usually evade our awareness. So the does the Resurrection. Our “reasons” for doing things may just be petty distractions from what’s really going on with Providence. Thank God for bossy mothers-in-law. They can be handy hammers in God’s toolbox. God uses all kinds of instruments to make us touch base with Him.
Nonetheless, it’s remarkable that what skeptics and sons-in-law have long claimed is a naïve tale with bronze age roots is still getting folks out of the house, off the internet, and into Mass for one Sunday a year. Providence being what it is, there is something mysterious about multitudes of long-faced churchgoers touching base with God’s most important act since He said, “Let there be light!”
What’s even more amazing – or more amusing – is that some non-believers try to one-up the Easter mystery with secular versions. A few years ago, I recall the headline in an Easter Sunday Washington Post. It was about some billionaires who are developing technologies, they say, that will make people (i.e. billionaires) live forever. That’s thought-provoking. The story said that Google executive Ray Kurzweil takes 150 vitamins a day so he can live long enough to invent robots that will keep people alive, perhaps forever. That was a few years ago, so I don’t know if Kurzell is still taking 150 daily supplements. Whatever the case, one thing is clear: Christ’s Resurrection irretrievably tantilized man’s imagination and the idea of immortality.
Immortality is romantic. Like romance, it’s also hopeful. The Christian version of immortality (the original version) – rising from the dead – is more romantic and hopeful than all of the others, including Google’s. Catholic hope attracts both indifferent people (like sons-in-law) and ambitious people (like Kurzweil). This alone is good reason to believe (or at least take seriously) that Christ’s Resurrection – and all that it implies – is true. No one can accuse the Resurrection of being just another quaint or obscure idea consumed by reality, like medieval alchemy. Its impact is universal and ongoing.
On God’s part, it was ingenious to perform a “once-only” Resurrection upon which hinges the world’s salvation. “Once only” means “once only,” so you can’t study it, investigate it, or run experiments on it. Science has nothing to say about it – good or bad. A “once-only” resurrection (that won’t happen again until The End) can neither be proved nor disproved – let alone replicated – by any methods of human knowledge: not science, not philosophy, not math, not critical history, not electronic data gathering, neither carbon nor radiation testing, not experiments with entropy, not computer simulations, nor any method that human genius has concocted to figure stuff out. All we’ve got is faith: belief in solemnly defined dogma. A “once-only” Resurrection is like a “once-only” falling madly in love. There’s no pattern that can prove it. We can only look for hints: the manic behavior that unrelentingly flows from it. “Put your yellow bow tie on!”
What’s embarrassingly notable – and romantic – about Christ’s resurrection is that, during his 40-day layover, He only revealed Himself to people who believed in Him. This kind of thing would drive the FBI crazy. “I won’t tell you or show you anything unless you really believe me.” It’s like a car salesman who says, “If you don’t believe that this is the best car ever, I won’t let you test drive it.” It keeps you guessing. Is this a gimmick? Or am I missing something? The Resurrection event is hard to read. But that’s what makes it credible. I don’t suspect that the saving Love of an Eternal Creator would be easy to read by any member of a race that takes SATs or ACTs to get in to college.
Moreover, if the Resurrection were easy to understand, then it would not be about Love. Love is never easy to understand. One of the proofs of Love is that it’s baffling. Jeremiah wasn’t kidding when he said, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). If the Resurrection were not mysterious and baffling, it would not be about Love. It would just be amusing, like Superman leaping a tall building in a single bound. But it would have no power to transform the human race into a New Creation. It would have no power over suffering and death. Like a lover playing hard-to-get, Love presupposes faith and hope precisely because it’s mysterious and baffling. Both Love and Love’s Resurrection demand intimacy with a Person: Jesus Christ. In one way or another, a lover always says: “Put all your chips on my number, or put none at all.” “Take me – hook, line, and sinker – or don’t take me at all.” It’s a wedding vow. The Risen One says, “If you believe in Me, I’ll give you a share in my inheritance. If you don’t, forget it.” St. Paul puts it this way: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). St. Peter said as much: “He has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who, through Him, are believers in God who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21).