By embracing the cross we see the Resurrection

By 
  • April 26, 2011
One day I was in one of those giant supermarkets. The produce department opened out before me like a football field; within it, a vast bin overflowed with tomatoes. I started picking through them, then realized this activity was a waste of time, as they were all identical, all perfect. Each sphere had a thick, tough pink skin, without dent, spot or mark, all the same size; I knew they’d be relatively tasteless.  

My mind flashed to earlier days, to shelves lined with rows of deep red, thin-skinned tomatoes. These did require selection because some would be bruised or split, sizes varied from tiny to huge, and each was a juicy tasty treat of which its contemporary counterpart offers but a faint memory.

These tomato changes, it occurred to me, are like what’s happening to us: we’re expected to look, smell and feel the same as one another, to have tough skins that never bruise or break, and to be easily gathered, stored and marketed in large quantities. We’ve been standardized; normalized; uniformized.

Uniformizing, toughening people up and making them tasteless aren’t hallmarks of Christianity. At least they oughtn’t to be.

Consider the Passion narratives. Four, not one. Different ways of telling Jesus’ story; different responses to death, to new life. The Church hasn’t ejected three Gospels to make one standard book, nor deleted the differences. On the contrary, the varied viewpoints and theologies help highlight the truth of Jesus’ person — He’s not flat, not containable.

Consider the varied accounts of the Resurrection, and different responses to it, within these same four Gospels. What did the Resurrection look like? For the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, it looked like fear, disbelief, hardness of heart. For Peter, it’s an invitation to a new work, a new confession of love and a new kind of suffering. For Thomas, it’s wounded flesh.

Resurrection may not look quite the way we expect. It can’t, really. After all, it splits death apart, shatters our familiar bonds. How could our eyes be prepared for what we’ll see beyond sin and death? The disciples’ eyes were prepared by their long walk with Christ, feeling His healing touch that even was able to restore the breath of life, as with Lazarus the week before. And still, when they beheld the Resurrection, they had trouble seeing it. He broke open the grave. He burst asunder the rules of the finality of death. He wrote the Law of Love.

Lent can be a long journey, with its focus on repentance. A beautiful journey, in its own way. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of death and allow new life in. As St. Augustine observed about his grieving over a beloved friend’s death, at a certain point if he’d been offered his friend’s life back in exchange for his grief, he’d have preferred to keep the grief.

We might feel more comfortable with Lent than Easter, with death than resurrection, suffering than glory. That Easter Alleluia is our birthright and our duty. What happens if we don’t see it? If, like Mark’s disciples, we feel fear and stubbornness rather than joy and exuberance? If like Thomas, we need to touch it with our own hands and can’t seem to grasp it?

If we wonder whether we made it through Lent but didn’t quite get to Easter, there’s help during these May days. Our May calendar is filled with people who were non-standard, thin-skinned, brilliantly coloured, came in all different sizes and shapes. And who show us that Christ’s resurrection isn’t only about Him, but about us too.

On May 10, we remember St. Damien, the 19th-century Belgian peasant. As a young man he requested to become full-time chaplain to the leper colony on Molokai, a Hawaiian island. There, sufferers from Hansen’s Disease were quarantined for life, remaining in isolation and misery. Damien didn’t bring anyone back to life or prevent them from dying. He lived with them, sharing their lives to the point of contracting the disease himself. He brought their plight to the world’s attention, drawing others to assist them. He stood up to death with them. What does the Resurrection look like through his story?

On May 22 we remember St. Rita.  As a young girl in 14th-century Italy, she was married despite her objections. As a wife, she endured a difficult marriage, then her husband’s violent death. As a mother, she saw her two young sons die. In response to these sufferings, she entered a convent, focusing on prayer and quiet service. She’s known for being so close to Christ that a physical wound on her forehead is associated with His crown of thorns.  

Damien and Rita are remembered not for resignation or thick skins, nor because they suffered. They’re witnesses of the Resurrection because they each, in their own circumstance, engaged their free will, as Christ engaged His. It’s by this free embrace that we come to see the Resurrection.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)

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