Memory is a funny thing… As we go through life, we have countless experiences, but we only remember a tiny portion of them. It’s a strange phenomenon. Just as only a fraction, of the vast amount of data we perceive, is internalized as information, only a tiny fragment of our many experiences is retained as memories. It’s a true blessing when the memories we do retain are happy ones.
I’d like to share with you a personal memory that I recalled lately when considering our readings from recent days. And then I’d like to relate that memory to our celebration of Easter today.
First, the memory: Many years ago, I once participated in an egg decorating contest for Easter. This must have been back when I was in the first or second grade. To help, my mother bought egg decorating kits at the Navy Exchange. Incidentally, it’s the same Navy Exchange that’s nearby, but this was long before the renovation.
The kit included some food coloring, a brush, and an egg stand, which had to be assembled. The stand was just a small piece of paper, not much thicker than an index card; and the ends that had to be glued together.
The egg itself had to be hollowed out, so that only the shell remained. My mom helped. She used a needle to pierce the egg shell on both sides, and scrambled the egg yolk and white; so that it could pour out freely from the holes. We took our time decorating eggs, with different colors, lines, and spots. It was a fun activity in the home, with my siblings also decorating eggs of their own.
The next day, I was excited to bring my display to school. And I had to be very careful with it, since it was so fragile. You’d think I was carrying a precious treasure. When I arrived at class, my homeroom teacher put my display on a shelf, alongside many others.
Now, when I saw the other displays, I was overcome by mixed feelings. You see, there were some very fancy displays: eggs made to resemble animals, people, vehicles, and other things, with things like cotton, string, felt and other materials attached to them. Some eggs were dyed in vibrant colors. Some seemed polished and lacquered. I marveled at them; and I marveled at their creativity.
My own display was quite unremarkable. My egg resembled an… egg, dyed unevenly with dull pastel colors, made with food coloring, and decorated simply with zig-zagged stripes and dots, elevated for display on a glued-together egg stand. I was a little ashamed to see my egg displayed among these imposing others, and I was embarrassed to hear the excitement surrounding the other displays.
For an average child, the polite reaction was to perhaps simply glance over my display, and move on to more exciting ones. But my teacher was so kind as to comment warmly after acknowledging mine.
At that time, I may have been ashamed of that humble display, when I was locked into that brief moment in time; when I judged according to the logic of appearances, peer approval, social affirmation, and competition.
But from where I’m at now, I’m grateful for that memory. Perhaps, I might have forgotten this memory had the event been any less embarrassing. I’m grateful for whatever impression allowed me to retain that experience as a memory. I'm grateful for that activity that brought my family together for an evening. I’m grateful for that innocence.
Memories are funny things. Perspective can transform a memory from a cause for embarrassment into an occasion for gratitude.
In these last days, we’ve gathered, and remembered. We remember an event that was cause for embarrassment in its brief moment in time. I spoke earlier of an Easter egg, which in the end can be nothing more than a child’s metaphor for our Savior.
Jesus Christ was the one, who was pierced and emptied out, and put on display, according to the prophecy: He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.
That’s how our Easter offering was decorated. He was dyed in the red of his own blood, decorated also with zig-zagged stripes caused by the whip. He wore spots of purple bruises, applied by fists and rods. He was displayed on a shameful cross, stripped and exposed so that he resembled nothing more than an unremarkable man:
Who would believe what we have heard? Begs the prophet, Isaiah. To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? … There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
This is our Lord. Pierced by the lance, he was emptied out until he was no more than an empty lifeless shell. How well did Saint Paul describe him! He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
The logic of that moment seemed very clear. No one locked into the mindset of the world could view this [gesturing to the Crucifix] as anything other than a brutal scene of execution and shame; and as a warning from Rome: “If you cross us, you will be crossed”.
An egg is one thing. But what perspective—what miracle—could transform this [gesturing to the Crucifix] from a cause of horror into an occasion for gratitude?
There is only one thing: an encounter with Jesus Christ, risen from the dead; only that. You see, the disciples had lived and followed Jesus for three years. They grew to love him, serve him, and acknowledge him as the true Messiah. But then, abruptly and violently, their saw their Messiah seized, tortured, and crucified to death. It had all happened so fast! Have you ever seen anyone die? Die an excruciating death, over the course of hours, by torture? Imagine that person being the one you loved most! Can you ever imagine moving forward after that event? Can you imagine a tomorrow? No. There was no tomorrow for the disciples. They were crucified psychologically.
Zechariah’s prophecy had come true: …When they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Ha’dadrim’mon in the plain of Megid’do. The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shime’ites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.
The disciples were by themselves, scattered like dust in the wind. Without a tomorrow, there was only a reliving of that horrifying day of separation and death.
But history records an astonishing return. When it seemed like the disciples were truly scattered like dust, suddenly, they rapidly emerged from behind locked doors and burst into society, bearing news of utmost significance: Resurrection! Resurrection! Resurrection! We have seen Jesus Christ. We saw him die! We saw him buried! But he lives and we are his witnesses!
Not only was there a tomorrow, but there was a future: a first day of the week, with the promise of the day after that, and the day after that. Almost immediately, an entire culture, which had lasted over a thousand years had changed. No longer was Saturday the day of the Sabbath—but Sunday took its place; for Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday! No longer was the Temple in Jerusalem the place where the Lord resides—it was wherever two or three would gather in his Name. It would be wherever the sacrifice of the Mass would be offered. It would be in every tabernacle in the world. No longer did the Law of Moses govern the people of God, but the words of Jesus would define everything. No longer would the Paschal Lamb be sacrificed; Christ has been sacrificed once and for all.
Only an actual encounter with Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, could overwrite that eviscerating memory of his crucifixion; only that experience. Nothing else could have brought the disciples back from the brink of total despair and confusion.
And return they did—with passion. If an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus could transform the horror of an execution [gesturing to the Cross] into the proud banner of our faith, how much more can our encounter with Jesus transform the most terrifying and shameful experiences we’ve had into occasions for gratitude?
As with the disciples, only a real encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ can grant us that conviction; which begs the question: where do we encounter Jesus today?
In short, in the Eucharist. For those who don’t know, the Eucharist is what appears to be bread and wine, but after the consecration becomes the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ himself. By faith, we believe this.
This is what Jesus commanded us to perpetuate: Do this in memory of me. We believe that Jesus Christ and the Eucharist are one and the same. Only Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist is able to launch us from behind our locked doors, and grant us the courage to burst into the new creation where Christ’s resurrection must be proclaimed. May our encounter with Jesus Christ here grant us the zeal to proclaim his resurrection today.