Victor and Vanquished

God’s glory, as it appears in the world – supremely in Christ – is not something static that could be observed by a neutral investigator. It manifests itself only through the personal involvement whereby God himself comes forth to do battle and is both victor and vanquished. If this glory is to come within our range at all, an analogous initiative is called for on our part. Revelation is a battlefield. Those who do battle on it can only be believers and theologians, provided they have equipped themselves with the whole armor of God. (Eph. 6:11)

~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar ~

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is not a particularly beautiful church. There are certainly more beautiful churches in Europe and even in the United States. Every year however, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims (I don’t know the number) process through its walls because within it stand both Mount Calvary and the empty tomb of Christ. The history of this church is fascinating, its diverse walls and various architectural features betray the struggles of differing Christian sects fighting (ironically) for control of its sacred space.

 

I went there a number of years ago as a seminarian; two friends and I would walk the dirty streets of the old city of Jerusalem early in the morning as we went to pray. One of those mornings I went into a small chapel which had nothing of significance, save a tabernacle with the Eucharist inside. It was one of the more profound holy hours I have ever had. A few hundred yards away from me was the very spot where Jesus rose from the dead, yet in that chapel, He was physically present at that very moment, and so in a sense it was a much more important place.

The strangest thing in all of life is death. As children we know death is bad, but we don’t really understand what it is, in our youth and into our twenties, we don’t really believe we will ever die; some people continue in that state most of their lives, but most of us fear the increasing rapidity with which it approaches. A theologian I like speaks of how Americans are always searching for a way to “get out of life alive”. Death is the final mystery of a rather mysterious life, a beautiful and sometimes hard world to live in. Death conquers all life, and everything we know passes into a place or a state that we cannot comprehend ahead of time.

Easter marks the only real historical claim to someone conquering death. People in the ancient world were not idiots; they knew that dead people stayed that way, they didn’t expect grandma to show up for dinner a couple weeks after she was buried. The claim of Christ’s resurrection was every bit as radical then as it is now. The only question is: did it really happen?

If Jesus really rose from the dead, as some of us believe he did, then he is the world’s true Lord, and as important as American politics and the stock market may seem, their import is illusory. If Jesus is risen, then what matters is not washboard-abs, or how many people friended you on facebook this week; all that matters is if I can share his victory over death.

I invite you to slowly read the quotation we began with. The glory of Jesus Christ is not revealed to the impious or apathetic, God does not throw pearls before swine; the radiance of divine beauty is mysteriously revealed to souls who set out on the road of faith, hope and love. To share in the victory of the lamb, we too must be vanquished – and this is the only hope I know of that is worth living for. Happy Easter!

Fr. Brian