Easter Sunday Readings can be found: [HERE]
It’s not easy to become famous and to stay famous. In the old days before modern media, you’d have to conquer the world or something in order to be world renowned. And even today—despite the coverage that radio, television, and the internet provide—there’s always that next headline, viral video, or meme that competes for our attention. A person’s fifteen minutes can pass by without 99.999% of the world’s population noticing it.
And Even those who are famous for their whole life can be quickly forgotten when their life is over. Peter O’Toole and Ingrid Bergman—I’m a fan of both—are among the greatest actors and actresses of all time, but their fame has waned with the passing of their generation.
Athletes also aren’t immune to this erosion of fame. Each generation seems to have their own GOAT in particular sports; ironic, considering it’s an acronym for, “Greatest of All Time.” Despite everything Michael Jordan’s did for the game, it took something like that documentary, The Last Dance, spark renewed interest into that era of basketball for many fans today.
When we consider those who have impacted us the most, even they can become forgotten with each passing generation. Not a single one of us here would be here today were it not for our grandparents. Many of us may know their names. Some of us may know the names of our great-grandparents. Even fewer of us still know the name of our great-great-grandparents. And so on.
It’s curious: due to genetics, it’s very possible that any of us might look like near twins with some of our ancestors. We could resemble them to a remarkable degree. And yet, who they were as persons—and even their names—could be unknown to us. Some of us here could be cousins with each other without even knowing it. That’s how fragile information across generations can be.
When we think of world history, even the stories of the most pivotal men and women can be reduced to myth; their stories changing from one telling to another. Who knows the real facts that have created the folklore behind Beowulf, Boudicca, Arthur, Gilgamesh, Nefertiti, Atrahasis, and so on? Who knew these men and women behind the masks of legend?
It reminds me of the Book of Qoheleth:
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns… What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun… There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen among those who come after. (from the first chapter of Ecclesiastes)
When fame quickly fades and names are forgotten with the passing of generations, how in the world is it possible that every single one of us here knows about a certain carpenter from nearly two-thousand year ago?
You know where I’m going with this. But for the moment, let’s consider this most unlikely paradox, even from a worldly perspective.
Any ordinary person is quickly forgotten even in his or her own lifetime. And as a matter of profession, education, and hometown, the man of whom I speak was an ordinary man by worldly appearances. And yet, he became famous not only in his own lifetime, but is even more famous to this day. And unlike other famous figures in history whose stories mutate into myth with the passing of centuries, two millennia later we know even more about him now than his contemporaries did.
Even fame aside, the story gets stranger. This man was from a rural village with a population of about four hundred people. There are literally more people in this Church right now than lived in his whole hometown. And he didn't come from any sort of cultural, economic, religious, or political center. His hometown was in the tiniest corner of the empire of the day.
His story becomes even more bizarre. That very same empire that executed him made belief in him into the national religion within a few centuries after his death. Just think about that. The empire that killed him worshipped him. And even more remarkable still is that this religion outlasted that empire, and has outlasted any other empire, kingdom, or nation since.
And unlike the number of fans of any famous person that eventually decreases until no fan remains, this man gains even more followers with the passing of centuries. Billions and billions of people have been and are his disciples. And his believers aren’t from a certain niche group. People from all walks of life are his disciples universally: the rich and the poor, men and women, the old and the young, kings and fools, philosophers and scientists, and so on.
His presence in history is more certain than any of ours. It’s certain that every single one of us here today will be forgotten a few generations after our passing, but his legacy will continue to gain momentum, and expand along with this expanding universe. And what I say next would be utterly incomprehensible were it not part of our daily experience. The entire world marks the passage of time with him as the point of reference. We are in the 2022nd year of our Lord.
There is no worldly reason that such things could be possible for any ordinary man, because he's not ordinary. The logic of the world cannot answer the riddle of this man’s impact on human history. Eventually, anyone with even half an open mind and an unhardened heart must admit that perhaps the most reasonable thing to do is to believe: to believe that this man is who he claimed to be; to believe that he is what his followers claim him to be age after age: He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, the Savior of the World, our Redeemer who rose from the dead and dies no more, who lives beyond the limitations of the world and is unconstrained by any of its categories, the one who defeated sin and death and now lives forever.
At the Easter Vigil, as at every Easter Vigil, when igniting the new Easter Candle, the priest traces certain symbols on it, while pronouncing the words: Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. To him belongs all time and all ages; all glory and dominion is his now and forever. Amen.
I did that last night when blessing this Easter Candle. After Mass, you can take a closer look at it. The current year is inscribed on it: 2022, Anno Domini; short for Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi—In the 2022nd Year of our Lord. As I mentioned earlier, we record time itself around his Advent.
In our gospel passage, disciples arrive at an empty tomb. They’re dumbfounded. The logic of the world cannot solve the riddle of the empty tomb. Neither can the logic of the world give an account of why we remember this man who continues to influence the world so greatly to this day, who enjoys a fame that transcends the ordinary erosion of fame through the passing of generations.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the answer to the riddle. The tomb is empty because he lives. We know him now because he lives. He is no longer bound by the limits of time or space, or death or decay, or anything else. He lives. He lives today, and he lives forever. Of this, we are his witnesses. Let us go out into the world to proclaim this great mystery.