March 23, 2008
Easter Sunday, Cycle A

First Reading: Acts 10:34
Psalm 118 1
Second Reading:
Cor. 5:6-8
Jn. 20:1-18

Certain Aspects of the Reason and Meaning of the Cross: What Does the Cross Mean to You Personally?

A story is told about Sin and Death.

“On the Friday night after Jesus was crucified, Sin came running into the garden where the body of Jesus had been laid in the tomb. Sin cried out, “Death, do you really have Him?” Death called back from within the tomb, “Yes, Sin, I really have Him. I've got my hand on Him. My shroud is around His body.” Sin left. On Saturday night, Sin went back to the garden and called out to Death inside the tomb, “Do you still have Him? The word is out that He's going to rise again after three days.” Death replied, “Go home. I've got it under control. My hands are on Him, and the stone's in place. He's not going anywhere!” Sin left, but the next day he was back. He found the stone rolled away and Death sitting in the tomb, his head in his hands. “What happened?' Sin asked. “Where is He?” Death said, “Something began to move around in that tomb. Suddenly that stone catapulted from the door, the angels of God filled the space, and Jesus shook me off and rose up out of that shroud, whole, well, and alive!” “Did He say anything?” Sin asked. “Just one thing,” Death answered. He said, “Tell your good friend Sin that you're both conquered.'' [Internet stories].

This story implicitly or explicitly sustains Paul’s vision that when our corruptible body puts on incorruptibility; when our mortal body puts on immortality, we can say with conviction that “Death is swallowed up in victory” and taunt death asking, “O death, where is thy sting? O death [oh grave], where is thy victory? [cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-55]. I suspect Paul’s utter conviction flows from his belief that:

"…all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might live and walk in newness of life. For, if we have been united to him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” [cf. Rom 6:3-5]. Essentially, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. [cf. Rom. 6:8]

Why was the Cross so significant in Paul’s life, and why must the Cross serve any reason or meaning or purpose or sacrifice in our own lives? I share with you that the Cross is the greatest sacrifice, the purpose, the reason and meaning to “immortalize” God’s identity and all that God represents amongst us. The Cross is a contradiction of all goodness. The Cross is a contradiction to all that is easy to achieve – including simplistic life expectation. The Cross is a contradiction or foolishness towards perfect love and sacrifice for another. However, you would agree with me that these epithets are precisely the reason and meaning, purpose and sacrifice of the Cross. The Cross is that great medium through which you and I have a reason to love kindly, to love tenderly, and to become “alter Christi – another Christ” in every respect in securing the safety, happiness and joy of another. The Cross is the purpose, the reason and meaning to sacrifice oneself until it hurts for the sake of another. The Cross is a symbolic and yet a practical gesture that should prompt us to never intentionally hurt or do anything that diminishes the image, self-esteem or reputation of another. The Cross is the reason to safeguard the “immortal” life of another.

The story is told again that all people of all generations long for immortality. The ancient Egyptians used special ointments and wrapped bodies in cloth making them mummies hoping that if they could keep the flesh from rotting they could provide immortality. The ancient Romans made immortality part of the politics of the state declaring that the Emperor was an immortal god and therefore should be obeyed by mere mortals. Rumour has it that even on his deathbed, Emperor Tiberius, the same emperor ruling when Jesus died, sarcastically said, "I think I am becoming a god."

In our time also, the wealthy look for immortality by granting huge bequests or pledges to museums or other institutions such as hospitals or universities to have their names embedded in hallways. Others look for immortality in sports and movies etc: Hall of Fame – Boxer Mohammed Ali, Boxer Tiger Woods, Golfer Michael Weir of Canada, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah – the 1st President of Ghana]. For Wayne Gretzky, the city of Edmonton has named a street after his name to immortalize him, until and unless another politician decides to reverse the honour accorded him for his contribution towards hockey. “Immortalization” or better still, human beings always have longed for immortality as depicted by tombstones or headstones with inscriptions at our cemeteries. Very rightly, Pilate wrote that inscription on the Cross: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” and placed it on the Cross up above the head of the crucified Jesus.

At our baptism, we too, were baptized into the death of Jesus Christ. As such, we symbolically put on immortality, which demands a lifestyle contrary to that which we knew. Baptism into Christ Jesus demands dying to ego-centricity, selfishness etc in order that we transform ourselves so as to live as God expects of us. In respect of our participation in the immortality of Jesus, the Paschal Candle plays a significant role at celebration of the sacraments: baptism, 1st reconciliation, 1st communion, confirmation, weddings and funerals. Such a gesture reminds us that all who live in the Lord will live eternally with him.

In short, the Cross is a pointer to a reality that this earthly life has a meaning, purpose and beauty. Consequently, we can never and must never be satisfied with the pursuit of consumerism and materialism and self-gratification. Please, note that the humiliation of the Cross is that God has personally and intentionally called you and me out of every “darkness” or “death” in our life and given us the ability to make him truly Present to others. The humiliation of the Cross is that God has personally and intentionally called you and me to reflect his love; that we perform every good deed in and for his greater glory. Jesus performed every act in his life ad maiorem gloriam Dei – for the greater glory of God – alone! The Cross gives us a reason to pursue every goodness and holiness! Thus far, I ask: “What does the action of the Cross mean to you personally?”

My bear friends, Christ is Risen! Christ is Alive! Let us continue to seek transformation in him who alone is able!

I wish you all a happy and a joy-filled Easter!

Father John-Baptist Okai
Priest Moderator
St. Cecilia Parish, Regina SK Canada

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