Fools For Christ
by Father Peter Iorio
Joseph of Arimathea was a very wealthy Pharisee, a member of the council, and a secret follower of Jesus. It was Joseph who went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. And it was Joseph who supplied the tomb for Jesus’ burial. I wonder if someone pulled him aside and said, “Joseph that was such beautiful, costly, hand-hewn tomb. Why on earth did you give it to someone else to be buried in?” “Why not?” Joseph may have answered. “He only needed it for the weekend.” I know it’s bad, but it’s April Fools’ Day and I have to give you a joke. As we come together on this Easter Sunday, we might be called Fools for believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
When I was in the Holy Land in February, I was surprised at how close the cross on Calvary is to the tomb of Jesus. Calvary and the tomb are contained in the same church of the Holy Sepulcher. I thought that the tomb of Jesus offered by Joseph of Arimathea would have been farther away from the cross. But truly, it emphasizes to me the Paschal mystery – that death and resurrection are always together. That is why the Church celebrates this Paschal Mystery one celebration during three days – beginning on Holy Thursday night and ending on Easter Sunday. Death and resurrection go together. It’s the mystery of God’s love.
When we are in love, when we are attached to someone like our spouse or our children, we always risk pain and we will always suffer for it. When you look at Jesus on the cross, you see that Christianity fosters this kind of attachment. Jesus tells us to love and that we will pay the price for loving.
The cross is not the price that Jesus had to pay to convince God to love us. It is simply where Love will lead us. Jesus said: if we love, if we give ourselves to feel the pain of the world, it will crucify us.
The cross says that we hold the dark side of reality and the pain of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in the evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Jesus holds the pain-even becomes the pain on the cross-until it transforms Him into a higher state which is the Risen Life.
When something bad happens to us, we are inclined to either create victims out of other people or play the victim ourselves. This does not bring about a solution but aggravates the problem. Jesus holds his pain and suffering in love. He never asks his followers to avenge his murderers. Compare this to almost all historical stories of the death of a leader and to what we see in public life in the world today. In Jesus, there is no resentment or anger. Jesus shows us a new way which is the way of love, compassion, and forgiveness.
Saint Paul in 2nd Corinthians says that Jesus became sin so that we might become the very goodness of God. In other words, Jesus becomes a problem to show us how to resolve the problem. Death is not just our one physical dying, but it is going to the full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance, being fed up, beyond where I am in control, and always beyond where I am now. It is scary and these horrible experiences of suffering can feel like the descent into hell. Anyone who has experienced the death of a child or divorce or being looked over for a promotion when we deserve it or being fired from a job that we love or homelessness or being without enough money or failing out of school or a traumatic break up in a relationship knows what I’m talking about.
When you go to the full depths of any kind of experience where you feel like dying, sometimes even going to the depths of your own sin, you can always come out the other side and the word for that is resurrection. It happens by sheer grace, a gift from God and certainly not by anything of our own doing. We are all carried through the suffering by an uncreated and unearned grace. We are never worthy of this gift of new life. The way to get through is to trust that God is always with you. He does not abandon you even though it may feel like that. The way through is to keep desiring this change in our situation and asking God in prayer. And when the change happens, it may surprise us or it may affirm us that love is truly stronger than death.
Only the spirit can teach us the paradox of Jesus‘s death and resurrection, the pattern of all growth, change, and transformation. It is hard to trust both the dying itself and the promised new state of being.
Notice how the Risen Lord greets people: peace be with you! Jesus shows us the way to true peace. And as 2000 years ago when it first happened to Jesus of Nazareth so today when we see that and live that new way of love compassion and forgiveness, we know that the new life of the resurrection of the Christ is in our midst and we sing alleluia alleluia alleluia! And that’s no joke.