For chronic news junkies and headline hounds, the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday 2008 have not been reassuring.
In New York, we watch a governor with questionable ethics resign, only to be succeeded by a governor with questionable ethics.
Nationally, we watch an everlasting Democratic primary descend into gutter-ugliness, and we suspect the descent will continue and accelerate until that party’s convention in August (!) at which time — quite possibly — all hell will actually break lose on the convention floor, and elsewhere. We seem willing to accept a candidate plucking up a crown from a wasteland, if a scorched-earth is what it takes.
During Lent we marked the fifth year of our adventure in Iraq, an effort which even supporters of the war will admit was for too-long mismanaged. Things are undeniably improved, but we have a ways to go before tribal mentalities and Iraqi memories held hostage to Hussein’s 35 years of tyranny (and America’s first abandonment of Iraq in 1991) recede enough for confident self-governance. It will take a while for the concept of liberty — and its concrete benefits — to take hold in the minds of the Iraqi people, and they begin to feel the thrust and power of the Democracy they have a chance to guide. We know that; increasingly we accept that our presence in Iraq must continue, but we are impatient for its end.
A seemingly buried undercurrent of racial tension has again jolted the nation, and its raw exposure has come through, of all places, the churches, where we might have reasonably expected messages of peace, reconciliation and connectedness to be the order of the day.
The dollar is falling. Congressional partisanship is at an all time-high, while competence seems at an all-time low. The threat of terrorism as a means of movement continues. Cartoons in Europe inspire a bizarre conspiracy theory that threatens the pope.
Depressed yet? Through ordinary lenses, things indeed look pretty bleak. But Easter is here, and through the lenses of hope, its early arrival seems perfectly timed.
Those still digging out from snow and searching in vain for a sprig of crocus might be excused for thinking otherwise, and the relentless negatives confronting us through media do seem to accentuate the dark. But Easter helps shine light on the small positives all around us — things we might miss and step over, without its bright beams.
This week former Soviet leader Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev visited the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and, after kneeling in prayer for thirty minutes, confirmed that he is, in fact, a Christian. Somehow that admission had the effect, for many, of demonstrating the long-term reach of the hand of God, as their memories pieced together a few seemingly unrelated events, and found meaning: memories of an early 20th-centery happening in Fatima, Portugal, where the Mother of Christ instructed illiterate farm children to warn the world about “Russia’s mistakes” and to pray for that nation. Memories of President Ronald Reagan suggesting that Gorbechev was a “closet Christian” and of the Soviet leader’s unprecedented engagement with Pope John Paul II, who had himself nearly been assassinated by then-communist Bulgaria. Memories of walls coming down, “overnight.”
Memories take on a different cast in the long-term view.
And that is what Easter is — the long-term view — the answer to day-to-day bleakness. A review begins on the night before Easter, as Orthodox and Eucharistic churches chant out — through the eyes of faith — the whole history of the world; from creation to awareness, to covenant, to exile, to suppression, to oppression, to unthinkable incarnation and finally resurrection, salvation and sustenance, all woven together into a marvelous whole, and bound with the message, “I am with you always.”
On Easter Sunday, upon the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, death was cast aside as a mere moment in the “marvelous whole” of eternity, and there we learned that days of bleakness and shadow are overcome. A light may pierce darkness, but darkness may never pierce light, and so light is ever dominant, ever powerful. Christians believe Christ is that light, and that his love, his lessons, his sacrifice and his resurrection illuminate even our darkest corners with hope, and thus fullness of redemption, even from ourselves.
And with that mindset, we may be reassured and becalmed. If the daily news can seem all-too weighty and burdensome, if it leads us into anxiety and cynicism and engenders within us a strain of hopelessness — a sense that nothing ever changes — then on this day of all days we can take a minute to reflect on the long-view of things. Did an unhappy incident at one moment of our lives have a positive effect on us down the road? Did one lost opportunity lead us into something (or someone) we now love, but never would have encountered, had we gotten our then-heart’s desire? Can we look back on a terrible memory and realize that we lived through it and were made stronger for doing so?
The abiding message of Easter is actually contained not in the gospels but in the Revelation: “see, I make all things new.” It is at Easter that we are most powerfully enjoined to remember that promise, and to reflect back on our lives and our histories, just long enough to perceive where we have come from, so that we may look forward with anticipation; with the awareness that nothing is static — that nothing we see today will be exactly the same tomorrow — and with heartfelt appreciation for the knowledge that as everything in our lives slowly evolves, there is a hand in it, a promise of Presence, all with a long-term mindset, and a view to eternity. Happy Easter.
The Anchoress blogs at the Anchoress Online.