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From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Resurrection of the Lord (Mar 31, 2024)

Easter Sunday 2024

In the last line of his great work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton mused, “There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” This quality, argues the Journalist, would have been too much for us; Christ had to restrain it, even more so than His heavenly glory, which He at least revealed at the Transfiguration. 

A fine thought. Certainly, containing a truth worth pondering: that the joy of God is such a powerful force that He could not show it in this valley of tears. Only in Heaven can He give it free reign; or rather, meter it out to the saints according to each’s capacity! And yet, I think a careful reading of the Gospels, particularly the resurrection accounts, reveals the mirth of Christ at least “peeking through the latticework” (Song 2:9) of His risen flesh. 

Think of Christ donning the guise of a gardener and engaging in facetious dialogue with a beside-herself Mary Magdalen, only to reveal His identity when she could bear the sorrow, and He could contain the joy, no more: “Mary!” (Jn 20:16). Or, contemplate Jesus hurrying to perform another theological prank later that same day, “appearing in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country” (Mk 16:12). There He goes so far as to play the fool, asking them what sort of things had taken place in Jerusalem, when only the village idiot would have been unaware! (Lk 24:17-19).

Or consider Jesus appearing to His friends the night of Easter Sunday, showing His wounds and asking them if they had anything to eat. Or again teasing His disciples from the shore about whether they had caught “anything to eat” during the night, fully aware that they had laid an egg (Jn 21:5). Finally, consider His decision to leave playful angels to guard the tomb on Easter morning and give instructions for the disciples to go back to Galilee to see Him!  At every turn, at least for those who look for it, the mirth of the Risen Christ is peeking through, if not to say shining in all its joyous splendor. 

I hope that today finds us sharing something of that joy. Each Lent seeks to pass faster than the previous, which is a mercy to those who make a strong start with their Lenten practices. Each Triduum, hopefully, finds us slightly wiser and more human, and therefore more capable of appreciating all that Christ suffered for us and all He gave us in the process. With each passing Easter, then, we ought to be more capable of experiencing spiritual joys, based not in the feasting of the flesh, but in grasping something of that mirth of the risen Christ that Chesterton found implicit in the Gospels. 

For many people, that mirth is hard to grasp, and perhaps even to believe in. One of the greatest trials, I think, for people of faith in this life is the silence of God. Why doesn’t He show Himself? Why doesn’t He answer? Why does He allow this or that? Why doesn’t He seem to care, or come to our help? For those who grapple with questions like these, the mirth of Christ seems far from implicit, much less apparent. In fact, we can even start to read into those Gospel passages a stern and somber Christ who is constantly doing the incomprehensible and scolding His followers all the while. 

There is a recurring “prank” that we sometimes play in the rectory, well-worn and unfailing. If we are seated at table and a member of the community arrives late to the meal, we turn the lights off in the dining room as soon as movement is heard at the back door. And all those at table pretend not to be there. Some cover their faces with a napkin, as if that would help. Others whisper in too-audible tones, “Shhh, he’s coming! Don’t make a move!” As the late arrival approaches the dining room on his way to greet the Lord in the chapel, (if he plays the part) he will start calling out “Is anyone home? Hello? Where is my community?” Then, when the “suspense” can be endured no longer, someone turns the lights back on and the community roars to life with laughter as someone, with feigned childlike innocence, shouts out the obvious, “We were here the whole time!!!” 

I wonder if something like that is going to happen when our eyes close on this life, and God “turns the lights on” to the other. God grant us all today the grace to believe firmly in the presence of the mirthful Risen Christ, no less with us than He was with the disciples on the first Easter. On that day, if not before, we will realize how obvious His presence was in this life, that He was with us the whole time, ever inviting us to accept the solid reasons for believing He has given us though the Church, to walk by faith and not by sight, and to “come share our master’s joy,” (Mt 25:23) for he lives and reigns forever and ever, Amen.

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