Christ, the New Dawn: An Easter Reflection

April 21, 2019

The book of Ecclesiastes begins with a rather grim but earnest philosophical observation on the state of the world: “Vanity of vanities… all things are vanity… there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 9, cf. 1:3). This summarizes the state of the world in the wake of original sin. This “reign of decay,” as it is sometimes called, subjected everything to eventually come to nothingness and, thereby, a meaninglessness.

In a world prior to Christ I imagine it’d have been a view I shared. I also imagine that if not for faith, prior to which can be thought of as a spiritual “BC” period, an atheist nihilism like what this verse from Ecclesiastes seems to express makes a lot of sense. In a materialistic (that is, the view that only matter exists, nothing spiritual can be said to have being in a real sense) worldview, the way of all things is to eventually pass into nonexistence. Cosmological theory speculates even the last proton is said to eventually decay and cease to be. In this view, the Sun, stars, planets, earth, life–all will eventually dissipate into a state of the universe where it was as if nothing ever came to be at all. In a world where nothing is permanent, all things are robbed of meaning.

God saw this, too, as a consequence of fallen nature. Where there is no permanence, there is no meaning. Given a choice between two very different courses of action whether speaking of the overall arc of one’s life or a choice one may face on a given day, there is no real difference between the two if in the end both courses come to the same end and state of things. Ultimately, if whether I lived as a saint or in prodigality results in nothingness it doesn’t matter which I choose. This was the predicament in which mankind found itself and seeing it, God set out a plan–the “plan of the mystery” (1 Corinthians 2:7). Rather than leaving us “orphaned” (John 14:18), doomed to live out a meaningless existence, God took us under His wing and raised us to become like Him (cf. Psalm 91:4, Deuteronomy 32:11).

Through Christ, there IS something new under the sun. It is a new way of existing, a path to unchanging permanence–eternity–and, thereby, a life of meaning. It is a life where choices do matter and effect (as opposed to ‘affect’) a part of the world, even if in a little way. And ultimately, the choices we make have meaning precisely because the resultant world will be different from had we chosen another way or course, particularly with regard to whether one is part of it. When Christ rose from the dead this new day had dawned. 

When Christ rose from the dead, there was a permanent sign that confirmed His identity. One of his new titles became, “the Crucified One” (cf. Acts 2:36, 4:10). Jesus rose from the dead, healed and in the fullness of glory, yet the scars of his crucifixion remained. While much has been speculated as to why this is the case, a part of the answer is to reveal to humanity the new humanity, that life and suffering now have a meaning, and what is the new meaning of life and its inevitable suffering. Yes, death and suffering are still very much a part of our world, Jesus did not take that away; however, it no longer has to be senseless and without meaning. Jesus’ wounds are eternal signs of God’s mercy as he was, “pierced for our offenses.” It is a reminder that acts from the goodness of our nature are eternal steps toward heaven, and acts from sinfulness are steps toward perdition. To act toward our spiritual good will ultimately be a wound to our fallen nature, just as to act in accord with sin is a wound to our holiness. Each time is a choice and our choices now have meaning because they determine the resultant world. 

One of the pedagogical devices God gives us for revealing this new way of existing, this path to eternal beatitude with Him, is through the theme of light and darkness. One of the thoughts making its rounds on the Catholic blogosphere last Christmas was the consistency between scripture and the liturgy of the Church regarding the feasts of the Annunciation which would have been the moment of Christ’s conception, the conception of John the Baptist, the birth of John the Baptist, and the Birth of Jesus. The Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist on June 25, just four days after the summer solstice. By this time, the days are at their longest and the days will only get shorter. Jesus’ birth is celebrated by the Church on December 25, a few days after the Winter solstice. This is when days and daylight is at its shortest span of time, and will only lengthen from that point forward. This is part of the “fittingness” of scripture’s statement regarding the relationship of John and Jesus: “For [Jesus] must increase, [John] must decrease” (John 3:30). John as the “voice crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23, Isaiah 40:3) is a symbol of the old man, of Adam’s children made to wander outside of the garden. Jesus becomes the “New Adam” (cf. I Cor. 15:22-23) whose day dawns with Easter. “Look to the East” (cf. Baruch 4:36) the direction in which the Sun rises upon the earth. 

The other little “historico-literary” device that God uses to teach us about this new day is the pattern of light and darkness at the various times of day and night of the events of the Paschal Mystery. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was placed upon the cross at about noon–when the Sun was highest in the sky. This was the time the Passover lambs would begin to be slaughtered according to the Halakic rules of sacrifice at the time. This is a time when shadows are at their least if not gone completely. From this point the Sun can only go down.  Scripture recounts that at this time the “sky was darkened.” Then, at about three o’clock, “at the noontime of life,” Jesus departs this world. It is worth noting that Jesus was in his early thirties, considered the prime of life. 

Scripture, however, is silent or “dark,” if you will, about the timing of the resurrection. All we know is that by the dawn the tomb is already empty suggesting that the resurrection must have taken place while it was still dark. There are some traditions that suggest that the resurrection took place at midnight, which is consistent with the aesthetics of God’s timing–the new dawn for humanity took place when the world was at its darkest. These little moments of “timing” and “aesthetic logic” was to teach or indicate to us to “See, [God] is doing something new” (Isaiah 43:19).

The other layer or meaning that these little devices are meant to indicate is the contrast of the kingdom of God with the way of the world. Throughout scripture and particularly in the gospel accounts, God stretches human imagination and thought through paradox. God “uses the foolish and lowly to shame the wise,” “Blessed are the poor.” and “you have heard it said… but I tell you.” The paradox of this new way of being is that our natural inclinations, old conceptions, and habitual tendencies will be at odds with it. Our King came to serve, not to be served. Our Savior is a victim. “By His wounds, [we] are healed” (I Peter 2:24). 

We have come to this moment of the resurrection and its joyful celebration through a season rejecting unbridled appetites of the flesh. We fasted, prayed, and gave alms as a preparation to welcome the new dawn again. My humble encouragement to you is to embrace this new way of life. The daily choice to take up the cross and follow will not be in vain. Scars we suffer from a righteous and holy love for God, ourselves, and neighbor will ultimately be borne unto eternity. It is by them that we too will identify with “the Crucifed One.” 

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