Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Dead or alive

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the April 16, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky This year pastoral wisdom tells me to forego the temptation to repeat the greeting “Happy Easter” at the beginning of Mass every Sunday between now and Pentecost. After customarily doing so in recent years after the Easter Feast, I guess I have grown more attentive to the odd looks I usually get from the congregation – like I am one brick short of a load. The rolled eyes of the faithful seem to communicate well the message that Easter, like winter’s snow, is over and done.

Yet such a greeting indeed could continue this year until May 24, the Feast of Pentecost, which concludes the Easter season, marking the Risen Lord’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all creation.

My former parishioners who unwittingly were subject to my antics used to call me a “liturgical purist.” Yes, they would admit: It is true that according to the Church’s liturgical calendar, the Easter celebration lasts 50 days. But, they would protest either explicitly or implicitly, in our culture we celebrate special events and then get on with life. One annoyed parishioner once observed four weeks into the Easter season that the lilies around the altar had long since dropped their white bugles and the dahlias were begging for a place in his patio garden!

The temptation remains to insist on a spirited Easter greeting for the entire duration of the Easter season. Following the liturgical wisdom of the Church, we believers cannot just celebrate Easter on a single day and then pack away the decorations like some folks do on December 26. The wealth of our Christian faith is based on the testimony of the Apostles and early Christians that Jesus, the crucified one, is not dead but alive! That means that he is more than a memory to commemorate each year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Faith celebrates more than memory. It celebrates reality.

The banter over a few words of greeting brings to mind the challenge which many of us encounter in our Christian walk of discipleship. The Resurrection of Jesus and its connection with our personal lives is central to our spiritual journey, yet somehow the life-changing encounter of God’s saving love in Jesus, the Risen Lord, has not touched and transformed our hearts and lives in a lasting way. All too often the Resurrection can get reduced to an abstract tenet of orthodox faith.

Pope Francis seemingly never tires of reminding the Church that belief in Jesus is a much richer reality than an intellectual assertion of the Lord’s Resurrection. After all, as the pope has observed, it is the anchoring point of our Catholic faith. We may affirm the values of the Christian moral tradition. We might even be committed personally to live as a Christian, putting into play values like love, forgiveness and generosity of service. Yet, as Pope Francis has pointed out, what may be missing is the transforming power of a personal experience of the Risen Lord.

Perhaps at least a part of the challenge is that the contemporary Christian tends to look for Jesus among the dead. If not among the physically dead, at least among the “dead” of a distant past. Such a mentality is satisfied intellectually with keeping Jesus locked into the events of history. Morally speaking, to do so is even more secure because a present-time, real encounter with the Risen Lord may well demand a change in life-style from his followers.

Inevitably the Easter season brings with it a multitude of cable channel broadcasts which attempt to “sanctify” the airways with their annual nod to Christendom. This year was no exception. One secular television series which caught my attention championed the effort of “Finding Jesus.” Catching glimpses of the series was more than a little frustrating. The usual lack of professional Biblical research was evidenced in the series, along with the temptation to canonize the latest discovery of ancient papyri pieces of the sacred Scripture. It was obvious that the “discovery” of the Jesus of history would be impossible to establish.

The series left the viewer in suspense with its relativism and lack of conclusions. Yet Jesus will never be found among history’s dead. Christian faith and the fullness of life it engenders and nourishes are not based on a researched collection of biographical facts and figures. No human relationship is. Our efforts to “find” Jesus will never satisfy because the collection of facts and figures about an historical figure, regardless of how scientifically verifiable, will never be able to save, to bring to fullness of life. At best they satisfy a certain intellectual curiosity.

There is little problem with the life, ministry and even death of Jesus of Nazareth as facts of history. The Resurrection of Jesus as witnessed and proclaimed by the early Church also can be packaged with the same bundle of facts. The Resurrection of Jesus is indeed claimed as a fact of history – a reality which happened in the historical life of the same Jesus of Nazareth. The exact date is just uncertain. But this does not mean that the Christian is left with the need to give witness to an event which happened (past tense) an increasingly long time ago.

Historical events naturally lose their impact the more time distances them from us. Yet the Good News proclaimed to unusually full churches on Easter Sunday cheerfully announce that Jesus not only rose from the dead (past tense) but is raised from the dead (present tense). “He is alive!” is a far more important proclamation than “He rose!”

The Church properly expends much energy and time each calendar year celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus because He is alive – now! Perhaps that is why so many C&E Christians sneak into Mass or worship service twice a year: to see if the Church does indeed still proclaim, “He is alive!” Because if Jesus is left among the dead of history, what hope and direction is there to life? One can live by principles and values – inspired by fond memories and good example – but the nagging search for a personal encounter with the face of God in truth and fullness of life calls for more. The greeting “Happy Easter” is far from a liturgical nicety. It is an invitation to let the Risen Lord find us, to make himself known anew and afresh.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Rosalia and St. John, pastoral administrator of St. Rose in Cheney, and the diocese’s Moderator of the Curia.)

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