Triumph

‘J. R. R. Tolkien, the Oxford professor who became famous by inventing the Hobbits in The Lord of the Kings, once pointed out that the Gospel story begins and ends on a note of joy. It begins with the birth of Jesus under the stars in Bethlehem, a moment of purest joy, and it ends with his resurrection in the garden, a moment of triumphal joy.

This all enduring joy of the Gospel contrasts bitterly with our daily lives.

The game was over. The coach entered a sullen, utterly quiet locker: “I just want you guys to know that I am real proud of the way you played this afternoon,” he said. “Real proud. We didn’t win, but we did prove to a lot of people what we could do. It was a moral victory.”

On the way out that evening, with autumn sky now dark, the second string tackle turned to the quarterback and asked, “What’s a moral victory?” The quarterback said, “It’s what a coach tells you when you lose the game.”

Failure. It’s that sinking emptiness in the stomach when you look down the list of grades on the exam. It’s that physician, returning from the operating room, “Well, we did everything we possibly could.” It’s packing up and moving from the house to separate apartments, packing last the book of wedding pictures that won’t be viewed again because they’re too painful.

One way of tackling – fruitlessly – failure is cheap rationalization: It was a moral victory! I remember, as a young priest, entering the home of a woman whose husband had just died. She met me at the door with a fierce look on her face saying, “Father, don’t tell me anything about how ‘he’s better off now,’ or ‘he’s in a better place’ or any of that other stuff. He’s gone!” She knew. He will not be with her anymore.

Another way to respond to failure is by shrewdly shifting responsibility to the some other person, the modern version of a very old story: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Blaming the other is not new.

The only real way to tackle defeat and start enjoying life is Easter. Easter announces a real victory to us, who many times fail, because it announces a love which has killed death. Christ entered the realm of failure and emptied it of its power. He faced down Satan in the depths of hell and loosed his tight grip on human life. Satan does not have any more the last laugh! Jesus, and all who link up his life to Him, have the last laugh.

The vital truth to remember is that Easter is not an event yesterday. It is an event today. Today, Jesus Christ, alive, can transmit victory to us, the same victory which carried him out of the tomb. In Him, we can live otherwise, in Him we can take all our problems in our stride, we can overcome addictions, we can build bridges.

In the early church it was forbidden to kneel for prayer during the fifty days that follow Easter. The posture of supplication and penitence seemed to deny the triumph of the resurrection. You had to pray like a winner for a full fifty days!

Too many Christians treat Easter perfunctorily. They retreat so easily to their castles and raise the bridge over the moot. They are paralyzed with anxiety and fear by the threatening circumstances. No! We have been given a courage that can face lions! It is enough to look at Saint Paul. His faith in the victory of God over the powers of sin and death and his hope in the ultimate victory of God empowered him to a bold, courageous engagement with the principalities and powers. It was often hand to hand combat. And he instructed the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God. They were struggling with the powers of this present darkness. But it was no time to retreat.

We should go around shouting “We won! We won!” for fifty days. Or, more truthfully, “Jesus won! Jesus won! And he’s taking me with him to heaven!” As Saint Paul says, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Over 1400 years ago Chrysostom, the greatest preacher of the early church and perhaps of all time preached these words on Easter Sunday.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Amen! Alleluia!

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.