The Lord is Risen – Pastor’s Reflection (April 21, 2019)
The Lord is Risen!
May you receive this day as a pledge on the promise that organizes your life of faith.
At Easter, the Risen Lord appears to his followers but he is no longer with them. He has passed over to a new mode of existence we might call the life of glory. He takes fish and eats it, but he also passes through locked doors. In him, humanity like ours has entered a life shorn of constraints but not of identity.
But in the flesh-bound world identity relies on constraints. I know who I am because of the boundaries I live within. I possess a priestly identity that shapes my life by obligations and prohibitions, and my vocation as a Dominican Friar binds me to a specific pattern of life, including where I live and how I work.
My own history further defines me through experiences I have had and those I have missed. I am Walter and Beverly’s son and they made defining choices for me: then I began to make them for myself. So I carry the blessing and challenge of a particular history. Further, I think of myself as German, from Kentucky, and from Louisville. Origins connect me to some and distinguish me from others. Finally, my body presents the ultimate constraint, permitting some things and preventing others.
My life offers more blessings than I can count, but more numerous are haven’ts, can’ts and won’ts that alsoshape it.
Human life includes these limits upon itself, and our manner of responding to them makes all the difference. Dealing with them marks us as resigned or resentful, defiant or resourceful, stoic or imaginative, accepting or anxious. Describing a life without these boundaries defies the imagination, but on Easter we sing Alleluias because Jesus lives it now, and through the sacraments he prepares us to join him in it
Even the fleshly world offers hints of the life beyond flesh. When I made my final vows in 1991, I promised obedience to God, Blessed Mary, Blessed Dominic, and my superiors “until Death.” Such a promise sounds like the longest of restrictions: I must live within the vows until I die. Less often do I ponder the commitment from the other side: it ends with the death of the body. The vow itself recognizes that it will not obtain in a new life where the categories of this one will be gone.
Celebrations of marriage tell the same story. I find each wedding to be a miracle of connection: for each member of a couple, their identity as spouse of the other will continuously shape the unfolding of their life. Yet I ponder the startling words of Jesus, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mt. 22:30)
My Dominican identity pervades every aspect of my life, giving it shape, focus, direction, and much joy. I will inhabit it gratefully for several decades, but what is that in comparison to eternity?
Perhaps it is timely this Easter to ponder the gifts and limits of identity. Often an aspect of ourselves becomes fundamental to our self-understanding, giving shape to our endeavors and our joys, but also to our exclusions and misunderstandings. In fleshly life identity provides a place of fellowship, but also of fights. When I discern how much identity means to others I take delight, but I also fear to offend.
I consider that my calling to eternal life is the truest thing about me. It relativizes the other ways in which I envision myself, present myself, compare myself to you, or fight with you. The death and resurrection of the Lord reveals human distinctions as passing things and invalidates violence in their regard. At the same time, Jesus lived and ministered in a time and place, as a member of people, and as a child in a household. So, the Incarnation ennobles these same distinctions as the means to a life beyond them. What a paradox, that by embracing in faith the full complexity of my self and my story, I am made ready for a life with God who is utterly simple.
Much work remains for me to accept the gifts and limits that mark my fleshly life, and it will take still more work for me to embrace the diverse ways in which my neighbors identify themselves. But all of these efforts will enable me to perceive our common and eternal identity with Christ in God. This real truth quells suspicion, stifles envy, and prevents war. Indeed, peace comes with perceiving that just beyond all the visible truths by which we must now live, there lies the great truth of the life that is coming to be, because Jesus lives.