THE GIFT OF EASTER HOPE
By BISHOP MICHAEL J. SIS
Diocese of San Angelo
This is an Easter unlike any we have ever seen. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and an alarming plunge in the oil market, our lifestyle and our economy have been turned upside-down within a matter of weeks. Despite how much we wish it would just go away, this crisis is far from over. How wonderful it would be if we could just wake up on Easter morning with everything magically back to normal, like a special gift from the Easter Bunny, but our recovery is going to take some time. It will take patience, hard work, and hope.
Easter is a Christian holiday. After Jesus Christ had been tortured and killed on a cross, wrapped in a burial shroud, placed in a tomb, and the stone rolled in place, it seemed that all was lost for the early Christian community. Jesus was dead. At that point, people thought the Christian story was over, but the miraculous events of Easter Sunday transformed everything.
Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we Christians are a people of hope. The sad reality of death is transformed. Death is no longer a bottomless pit that swallows everything. Instead, for us, death is a bridge to eternity.
Not only death, but any situation in life takes on new meaning in the light of the Resurrection. Christians seek to live in the new life of the risen Christ, allowing God’s grace to transform our real human experiences into something more beautiful. Being a Christian is not just a matter of enduring the pain of this life until it is over. It is not a matter of simply outlasting our current hardships until they pass. Being a Christian is about letting God transform our experiences into occasions of his glory.
God can take any situation and find a way to use it to his glory and to our salvation. For example, in marriage and family life, God’s grace enables us to work through our misunderstandings and forgive mistakes, so that we can find a new level of joy together. When we lose a job, God’s grace empowers us to regroup, retool, network, and start over with something new. When we have sinned, God’s grace moves us to repent and receive healing mercy. When we face our weakness and vulnerability, feeling like we can’t go on, God’s grace gives us the strength to persevere.
On this Easter of 2020, many of us have fears and anxieties associated with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the downturn of our local economy. God’s grace can transform that fear into a deeper trust in him. In the midst of this coronavirus crisis, God turns self-pity to gratitude, selfishness to generosity, and despair to hope. Right before our eyes, regular human beings with all their imperfections and foibles are becoming hometown heroes through the invisible power of God’s grace. Just open your eyes and notice them – in hospitals, at grocery stores, and in your own family.
Living as people of hope is not the same thing as looking at life through rose-colored glasses. It is not naïve. Hope is realistic, and part of reality is the fact that there is more to the situation than meets the eye – God is at work now, just as he was on that first Easter morning. Because we are a people of hope, even in a situation where things have fallen apart and all seems lost, we can get up, put one foot in front of the other, and let God make something beautiful out of it.
In my faith tradition, we believe that hope does not come to us naturally. Hope is a theological virtue which is infused into the human heart by God’s action. We cannot acquire hope by our own human effort; we receive it as a gift bestowed by God. Therefore, when we find ourselves low on hope, we pray to God for more of it. He is always ready to give us a new dose of hope. Unlike the limited supply of coronavirus test kits, God’s supply of hope is infinite.
The coronavirus is highly contagious, but hope is contagious as well. When we are around a person of hope, God inspires us to become more hopeful. Likewise, when we live out the virtue of hope, God uses us as his humble instruments to instill the gift of hope in our neighbors.
For Christians, the message of Easter is not just about the historical fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead nearly 2,000 years ago. It is also about the fact that God brings new life to us today, even when there seems to be only hopelessness, fear, and despair. For us, the true meaning of Easter is about opening ourselves up to the transformation of God’s new life, every single day.
God has not abandoned the human race. The same divine power that gloriously resurrected the body of Jesus on Easter morning is still operative in our world in 2020. God will transform us in this historic moment, if we will place our fears in his hands, trust in his grace, and ask for his gift of hope.