Faith, hope and love are stronger than death

We need this reminder.

Lately, Pope Francis has been talking about death in messages like this one just over a week ago.

Noting that death is a reality that modern civilization “tends, more and more, to set aside” and not reflect upon, Pope Francis said that for believers death is actually “a door” and a call to live for something greater.

Christians endearingly celebrate All Souls Day and ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, remembering their deceased loved ones in special prayers and liturgies, for their ‘eternal rest’ and ‘life everlasting’. Some populations celebrate it as Día de los Muertos, a day when families create traditional altars in honor of their beloved departed, with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’. These altars are set up at cemeteries throughout the world including Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, with processions and music taking the faithful from one to another.

In northern Romania, one of Europe’s last remaining peasant cultures still observes a similar centuries-old tradition on this occasion. Villagers decorate and light candles on graves, many with already lavishly carved wooden grave markers in the ‘Merry Cemetery’. It’s a celebration of life, faith and hope in resurrection.

They observe these traditions because they live what they believe, that life is sacred and eternal. It’s distinctly counter-cultural to prevailing forces pushing a utilitarian ideology of human existence that exalts abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide as a ‘choice’ to eliminate suffering and inconvenience when each diminishes us all.

Pope Francis told people to prepare for death, which had to be a startling message for the current culture. And on Wednesday, when he greets and addresses the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, he shared what he would be doing on All Souls Day, inviting anyone willing to join him.

Before concluding his address, the Pope reminded the faithful that he would be travelling to the American Cemetery of Nettuno, South of Rome and then to the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument on November 2nd to mark the feast on Feast of all Souls. Pope Francis, said,” I ask you to accompany me with prayer in these two stages of memory and suffrage for the victims of war and violence. Wars produce nothing but cemeteries and death: that is why I wanted to give this sign at a time when our humanity seems not to have learned the lesson or does not want to learn it.”

(Emphasis added.)

‘Love is stronger than death’

What can bring us peace when everything conspires to rob us of it?

The central message of the Resurrection.

Nearly 2,000 years later, the first Easter continues to provide lasting peace in the hearts of Christians.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the greatest hope of all,” said Rev. Ben Lowell of Paulding United Methodist Church. “God knows what is going through our minds, he knows our sins and yet he still loves us. That’s pretty good news.”

Lowell called Easter a time of new beginnings and changed hearts.

“Easter tells us that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hate. It reminds us that today’s troubles are temporary. Even death is temporary.”

The celebrant at the Easter Vigil I attended quoted Jaroslav Pelikan at the end of his homily.

If the Resurrection is not true, nothing else matters. If the Resurrection is true, nothing else matters.

Remember the Resurrection

Sometimes priests and preachers remind us that we have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday. But who knew we needed to be reminded what happened on Easter Sunday?!

Seems it’s quickly turning into the big secular celebration Christmas largely has become for many people, including Christians preparing their feasts and decorating their homes with bunnies and colorful egg trees. Some scholars are saying we need to re-think Jesus.

Fewer than half of Americans mentioned Jesus’ death and resurrection when asked about the significance of Easter, according to a survey released last month by Christian researchers the Barna Group.

At the same time, the National Retail Federation reports we’ll spend more than $13 billion on the holiday for food, clothes, candy and greeting cards.

Although the holiday is meant to be the central celebration of the church, disassociating Easter from the biblical narrative of the resurrection or seeing it in symbolic terms makes Christianity “safer” for con-temporary churchgoers, some local Christian leaders say.

“Jesus is very challenging. To encounter him is existentially challenging. It can be scary and uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Wilkins, assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. “There is a strong pressure in our culture to reinterpret (the resurrection) or explain it or not to deal with it as the mighty and miraculous thing that it was.”

Yes, encountering Christ is existentially challenging, which is why He came. The more uncomfortable it makes us, the more we’re probably converting from sinner to saint….or at least growing aware of what it means to be both.

The resurrection’s Easter competition comes not only from colorful bunnies and candies, but also the historical accounts of the story that appear in books, newspapers and cable TV programs each spring…

“The skeptical mind is always going to try to find a physical, a psychological, an other-than-spiritual reason for the truth of the resurrection,” said Gary Moore, spokesman for Second Baptist Church.

And modern culture is offering up plenty of alternatives, leading to what he calls a “contrarian” view of Christ.

Unitarian Universalists and more liberal congregations emphasize the inspirational side of the Easter story, as a story of new life and the power to rise above hate and injustice.

“Let’s don’t try to water this down. Let’s not try to make it just an idea,” said Moore in response. “Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t stand for something else, like a metaphor. Jesus’ resurrection only represents his body, not his philosophy.”

Or, more historically put…

Jesus’ resurrection was the first testimony of Christian faith; early Christians circulated stories about seeing him after his death, which were recorded in the New Testament, said April DeConick, a Rice University religion professor and historian.

“As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus served as a concrete example that God is good on his promises, and so the faithful followers of Jesus could be assured of their own resurrection after their deaths ,” she said.

And that’s the Easter truth worthy of a feast.