Dare to be an Easter People of Saints
This antiphon permeates the Easter Octave, and in the Divine Office time seems to stand still as we celebrate the Office of Easter day for the whole week, forming one great 'Dies Domini'. But even this extends into the entire season of Easter, the pentecostarion, or fifty days that form the days of the Easter day, such that the whole of Paschaltide has been called the Great Sunday, the Day of the Resurrection.
In the following reflection, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton considers what this means as all of Christian time is redeemed and thus Easter-time and also explicates what is implied when Pope John Paul II called all the baptised an "Easter people". As we sit in the light of the Paschal Candle and ruminate on the Scriptures, so our entire life takes on a Resurrection hue and we enjoy the new life of Christ given us by water and the Spirit:
"The Easter Mystery is not celebrated only at Easter but every day of the year, because the Mass is the Paschal Mystery. Passiontide, Holy Week, Easter and the 'holy fifty days' of the Easter season culminating in the celebration of Pentecost, all combine to spread the Easter mystery out before us in time in all its detail: but the fullness of Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost is also compressed within the compass of each day's Mass. For every time we participate in the sacred Mysteries, the 'Pascha Domini', we die with Christ, rise with Him and receive from Him the Spirit of Promise who transforms us and unites us to the Father in and through the Son.
Lent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the pedagogue, who convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own nothingness. Hence it disquiets and sobers us, awakening in us perhaps some sense of that existential 'dread' of the creature whose freedom suspends him over an abyss which may be an infinite meaninglessness, an unbounded despair. This is the fruit of that Law which judges our freedom together with its powerlessness to impose full meaning on our lives merely by conforming to a moral code. Is there nothing more than this?
But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us the new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to do good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning!
Easter is the hour of our own deliverance... Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendour of the Easter mystery - here is the 'grace' of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!
Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so... We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.
In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from 'the wheel of birth and death' by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques... But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to 'the Law' rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; 'Do you seek justification by the Law... you are fallen from grace... In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love' (Gal 5:4,6)...
Hence the Christian has no Law but Christ. His 'Law' is the new life itself which has been given to him in Christ. His Law is not written in books but in the depths of his own heart, not by the pen of man but by the finger of God. His duty is now not just to obey but to live. He does not have to save himself, he is saved by Christ. He must live to God in Christ, not only as one who seeks salvation but as one who is saved.
One might almost say that this truth is the great 'scandal' of Christianity. It is the stone that is constantly being rejected by the builders... Easter is the mystery of our redemption. We who have died and risen with Christ are no longer sinners. Sin is dead in us. The Law has no further hold on us.
And yet this is not as simple as it sounds. Our new life in Christ is not a permanent and guaranteed possession, handed over to our control, a 'property' which we now definitively have. We are still suspended over the abyss, and we can still fall back into the awful dread of the alienated man who has lost trust. But the fact remains that if we consent to it, grace and trust are renewed from moment to moment in our lives. They are not a permanent possession but an ever present gift of God's love. For this liberty to continue, we must really believe in the power of God to sanctify us and keep us saints. We must dare to be saints by the power of God..."