April 13, 2017
When I was a child, Easter Sunday was a day for receiving a basket full of candy from the Easter Bunny, dressing up extra special for Mass, and enjoying a good meal with my family. From my young perspective, the best part was the hollow chocolate rabbit. I especially enjoyed biting off the ears.
As the years went by, I came to learn that the real meaning of Easter is not about Peter Cottontail, chocolate bunnies, or marshmallow Peeps.
The meaning of Easter is that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He was abandoned by most of his followers, publically humiliated, tortured, killed on the Cross, placed in the tomb, and from all appearances it seemed like everything was lost. Everybody thought that the Christian experience was finished. Lifeless tomb. Story over.
But God is a God of surprises. Jesus Christ was resurrected to new life on Easter morning.
Mary Magdalene was one of the very few followers of Jesus who had remained faithful to him until the bitter end. She never ran away, denied him, or betrayed him.
She had the courage to remain faithful to Jesus during his Passion, even if it would cost her tremendous sacrifice. And she had the privilege of being the very first disciple to encounter the risen Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday morning. So Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the Resurrection.
One of the most important forms of Christian art is the icon. Icons are typically flat boards that have been prayerfully painted with sacred images of Christ or the saints. It’s very curious that, when Mary Magdalene is depicted in icons, she is traditionally shown holding an egg. Why an egg?
The egg comes from a pious tradition concerning Mary Magdalene. According to the story, in the days of the early Church, Mary Magdalene somehow managed to attend a banquet given by the Emperor Tiberius Caesar.
One of the things being served at the banquet was eggs. At a certain point, the emperor happened to come near Mary Magdalene while she was holding a plain white egg in her hand. When she met the emperor, she boldly proclaimed, "Christ is risen!"
The emperor laughed and said that Christ rising from the dead was just about as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued to proclaim the Christian faith to everybody at the party.
Our custom of coloring Easter eggs finds its origin in that ancient story. As it turns out, the egg is actually an excellent symbol of the true meaning of Easter — much better than a bunny or plastic grass or chocolate.
Think about it. If you look at the outside of the egg, it looks pretty dead. It has a hard, lifeless shell, like a rock. From the outside you can’t tell, but there’s actually life in there. Eventually the little chick pecks its way through, and emerges full of life.
Thus, the hard shell of an egg symbolizes the tomb of Christ, and the cracking of the shell and emergence of new life symbolizes his Resurrection from the dead on Easter morning.
As we experience the Easter season this year, I propose that we learn to look at reality with “Easter Eyes.” What I call Easter Eyes is the ability to view any situation, no matter how seemingly problematic, through the perspective of the Resurrection, and see that there is life hidden in that situation. Here are some examples:
In the Diocese of San Angelo we have many prisons. From the outside, you can drive by a prison and see the walls, the fences, and the barbed wire, and it looks like a pretty dead, lifeless place. Of course, things are not easy in a prison. There is loneliness, abandonment, despair, and even abuse. However, my experience of ministering in prisons has shown me that, within the confines of those walls, there is also much life inside.
Those in prison are human beings with heart and soul and mind. God’s grace is at work in their lives, especially through the dedicated service of the chaplains and volunteers who go to pray with them there. Conversion happens, God touches hearts, friendships are made, and lives are changed. Many put their time to good use through spiritual reading and Bible study. Some serve as mentors for fellow inmates who are searching for meaning. Prisoners are sometimes able to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, join the Church, and receive the Sacraments.
Because of this experience of the positive fruits of prison ministry, when I see a prison, I can say, “There’s life in there,” behind those lifeless walls. That’s looking through Easter Eyes.
Here is another example. Throughout our diocese there are nursing homes and assisted living centers. There are many faithful volunteers and clergy who go regularly to visit the residents there. This work of mercy calls for much love and patience, but I highly recommend giving it a try.
In my experience of visiting the residents of nursing homes, I have found that, even though they are carrying many burdens of aging and illness, we can look into their eyes and honestly say, “There’s life in there!” Beautiful, unique, and precious. That’s looking with Easter Eyes.
I’d like to offer one more example. One evening I was attending a charitable fundraising banquet in a luxury hotel. At the table next to me was a middle-aged couple together with their adult daughter. She had a serious medical condition, and she was unable to speak or smile or even feed herself. Her parents lovingly spoon-fed her, wiping off her face after each bite.
In the midst of that crowded banquet, it appeared that, for their daughter, just being there was a tremendous struggle. Her mom and dad patiently, attentively, peacefully fed her, in a high society event full of lots of people decked out in tuxedoes and evening gowns.
Why would they go to all that trouble? Because they could look at her with the Easter Eyes of a Christian, and know that, deep inside her palsied body, hidden behind her expressionless face, silent yet real, was their wonderful, beloved daughter.
There’s life in there.
Because of the victory of Jesus Christ on Easter morning, you can look at the situations of your life with a new perspective — your family, your marriage, your teenagers absorbed in their smart phone, the homeless guy on the corner, and your own pain.
If you look long and hard enough, still and quiet, patient, with enough faith, hope, and love, God will allow you to discover that there is a spark of life even in seemingly dire circumstances. That’s a very Christian way of understanding things, and that’s looking with Easter Eyes.