Christianity, discipleship, joy, secularism, trust, U.S. culture
It is interesting to note what strikes us and what we notice when we journey yet again through a liturgical season through which we have already traversed each year of our lives. My experience has taught me that each year is different and that there are new challenges and new insights gained. This liturgical season of Easter is no different.
Maybe it is because I just concluded a series on the Gospel of John in the parish which required me to delve deeper in my gospel study or because I recently saw the movie “Risen” which, at least for me, brought home the same point but this Easter season I have been reminded how the disciples still did not fully know where things were all going even after they encountered the risen Lord.
In their encounters with the risen Lord, as found in the gospels, we find within the reactions of the disciples an interesting mixture of incredible joy held along with fear and uncertainty. Christ is risen! The master and teacher that the disciples loved and followed now lives again, the tomb is empty, but the disciples still gather behind locked doors. Even as Christ defeats death, the powers of the world are searching out his followers to persecute and destroy them. It began with that first small band of disciples and it continues to our day.
I believe that the scene which most struck me in the movie “Risen” was when the disciples were rushing to meet the risen Lord in Galilee as they were told to do. At one point the Roman tribune is running alongside Peter and they both stop to catch a breath. I cannot remember the full and exact dialogue but the tribune basically asks Peter what he thinks they will find in Galilee, to which Peter replies, “I don’t know.” The tribune then asks why Peter is going if he does not know what he will find. “Because I trust,” replies Peter.
The book had not yet been written when the disciples encountered the risen Lord those first days after the resurrection. In one sense we have “the book”. We know through Sacred Scripture and Church history what happens and how things begin to take shape. We know what the apostles do afterwards and how they all go out in mission into the world. We have the book. They did not. The pages were still being written. All they had was their trust in the Lord and their amazement at his resurrection. But that was enough.
The truth is that it is enough for us in our day also. This, I think, is a message we need to hear this Easter. We live in interesting times to say the least. In the U.S. it seems that Christianity no longer enjoys the dominant cultural status it had enjoyed and exercised (at least on the surface), our society is becoming more pluralistic and more secular. Things once taken for granted can no longer be.
One reaction to this is to circle the wagons, say it is all done, the book is finished and the end times are upon us. Some people choose that route. Another response is to do as the first disciples did: be amazed and overjoyed by the resurrection and trust! I do not believe that the book of Christianity and the Church is done. I think that the pages are still being written and that we are blessed to live in the times we find ourselves!
One of my favorite saints is St. Augustine. I love to read his writings, to try to follow and grasp his depth of thought and to catch his snarky comments. For my Licentiate in Sacred Theology, I compared Augustine’s anthropology expressed in The Literal Meaning of Genesis with modern, secular anthropology. The cliff notes version of my work is that Augustine’s anthropology is better. There you have it. During my study and since then, I have realized that part of the appeal of Augustine for me and other readers is connected to the context in which he lived and wrote. He wrote in a time when Christianity was small and vulnerable and not the dominant social force but his writings still reveal the genius and beauty of our faith and thought. There is something worthy of remembering and reflecting upon in this.
Is the United States becoming more secular and pluralistic? Seems so. Will Christianity remain the dominant social power player it once was? Maybe not. Is Christ risen, is the tomb emptied? Yes. Then rejoice and trust! The pages of Christianity and the Church are not finished being written! Contexts may change but the gospel truth stays the same and continues on!
The very human temptation to remain behind the locked doors and believe that it is all coming to an end just because the context we find ourselves in is changing is constantly before us. But just because the context changes that does not mean that the end is near. Frankly, history demonstrates that it is in times of change that the greatest growth occurs partly because we are brought back to what is essential which, in this case, means rejoicing in the risen Lord and trusting. Our Lord’s call to go to Galilee is a continual call and corrective to his band of followers to move beyond the resignation of a “circle the wagons” mentality and to trust and go out into the times in which we find ourselves proclaiming the risen Christ as Lord!
As true for that first band of followers, so for us. Christ is risen! The tomb is emptied. Rejoice and trust! The Lord goes ahead of us to Galilee!