Easter's Shock

24 April 2011 Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118; 1 Cor 5:6-8; John 20:1-9

Allow me to begin a few hours ago. It was customary for early Christians to hold evening liturgies called vigils, especially the night before a great feast. In the universal Church these vigils are commonly done during the three most important feasts of the liturgical year: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Pentecost vigil though has not been particularly celebrated in the Philippines.

In the Easter vigil, we all begin in darkness, reminding us of our state before the resurrection. It suggests the mood of Lent, when we have scoured the dark recesses of our lives and prepared it for the Lord's light. The beauty and profundity of the image of the light, as Easter, becomes powerful in the background of darkness.

So it is in the understanding of Easter. In the movie, The Mission, Robert di Niro plays the mercenary and slave trader Mendoza, who kills his brother in a fit of jealousy and anger. As a self-imposed penance, he carries the implements of his past like his sword and armor, to the Jesuit mission above the Iguazu falls, the community of the Guarani Indians whom he has formerly hunted. When the Guarani recognized him, they threaten his life, but seeing what he has been doing, they cut the rope and release his 'past' plunging into the raging waters of the river. Experiencing freedom and forgiveness, he starts a new life with the Guarani and eventually becomes a Jesuit.

Easter Sunday is about redemption. Mendoza's character illustrates our capacity for redemption. We are capable of changing for the better. But what is striking for me is the dialogue before Mendoza takes the burden of his past and carries it up the precarious peak of the falls. Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) visits him in his cell. Mendoza sulks and tells him that there is nothing that could redeem him from his heinous crime. And Gabriel said, 'At least, dare to try' and got Mendoza's reply, "Are you ready to see it fail?"

Easter's gift is the guarantee of redemption offered to those who believe that everything has failed. Nothing is more astonishing in all the mysteries of our faith as the Resurrection. Because it is hard to believe it, and it is not within logic. It is riveting. But that is exactly what the Resurrection does. It tells us that there is a reality far beyond what is normally thought possible.

I met Lupillo in Mexico on our pilgrimage there. His work was to gather drug and alcohol dependents who lived in the streets of the city. He would scour the places and invite them every Friday for a meeting, hoping to help them recover from their dependency, or at least provide care for them. This did not happen overnight. His was a story of the impossible becoming possible.

He was on the streets for 22 years. The people he serves trusted him because they knew he understood them and their situation. Afterall, he was one of them. He began to make a turn when he saw what he was doing to his family. At first he thought that recovery was impossible. For a guy like him, poor and addicted, he thought he wss unredeemable. He clung to the care of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe's words to Blessed Juan Diego, "¿No estoy yo aquĆ­ que soy tu madre?"(Am I not here who am also your mother?)

So in one of the meetings for alcoholics run by religious congregations, he began to learn about the faith, and hoped in the resurrection. The rector of the Basilica of Guadalupe saw his leadership qualities and invited him to help in the ministry. In one of my meetings with him, he said that he has been sober for around 13 years, and since then he had repented and repaired his relationship with his family. Now he shares that resurrection experience with others. There is no way for overflowing gratitude, but share to others.

We have many times said to ourselves that there are dreams not worth pursuing because of all the odds. Or we believed that certain dark aspects of life cannot be healed. Even before daring. Even before trying. We have been defeated before fighting.

But the Resurrection jolts us to see that victory awaits us. There is forgiveness already offered for the gravest of sins, and hope for bleakest of situations. And there is no reason for us to forget: we are reminded by the celebration of Easter every year, or like the words of a bishop, "if only we understand Easter, we will see many Easters every single day."

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