In this part of the world, we’ve recently had rain enough to last a lifetime, to say nothing of floods yet again. Water is life, but too much is death; and at times we’ve had too much. Let’s hope for lots of sun this Easter. And yet, water and Easter are intimately connected; and I mean both water as death and water as life.
We’re not exactly sure where the English word “Easter” comes from, but it seems to come from “Eostre”, the name of the old Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime and sunrise. She also seems to have given us the word “East”, where the sun rises. The Italians call Easter “Pasqua” and the French speak of “Pâques”, both of which look back to the Jewish Passover, “Pesach” in Hebrew. The Latins are more biblical and we Anglophones more pagan.
Whatever about the pagan origins of the word, Easter is about as Christian as it gets. It takes us to the heart of Christianity. Christianity starts not with a fantasy or a fable, but with a fact. The fact is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He was executed as a criminal, and the disciples saw him placed in a tomb. But then a few days later and completely unexpectedly they met him as one who was alive – not alive as before but not a ghost either. He could walk through locked doors and across water, or he could simply appear on a beach at dawn; but he was unmistakeably a physical presence. In ways the disciples struggled to understand, Jesus had entered into some new dimension of human existence. In time they came to say, as we do, that he was risen from the dead.
This meant that Jesus was no shadowy figure imprisoned in the past, but a living presence to be encountered now as power. He was not “once upon a time”, but “always and everywhere”. He still is. There is no place or time or situation in which we cannot meet Jesus risen from the dead. When we meet him, we see life painfully raw, laid bare, yet bursting with unimagined newness and hope, however hopeless things may seem.
Baptism is where Jesus first comes to meet us, which is why Baptism and Easter are so closely connected. We take water – water as death and water as life. When the catechumens, or the elect as they are at this point, go down into the water of the font, it is as if they go into the tomb with Jesus. They are died and buried with him. When they emerge from the water of the font, it is like a new birth as they emerge from the waters of the womb from which the Church is born. The water of death becomes the water of life.
Baptism is Easter with your name on it – not some folksy family celebration or naming ceremony, not just doing what it takes to get your child into a Catholic school. Baptism is the moment when the risen Jesus calls the name of those baptised, drawing them into his own death and resurrection, giving their life a radical new orientation.
When Jesus died on the Cross on the dark mountain, he entered the very depths of human destitution and degradation. Calvary means there is no dark corner that Jesus has not entered. This is good news for us, because it means no corner of our heart or of the world is unredeemed or unredeemable. When he rises from the dead, Jesus transfigures every darkness, even the darkness of death. After his resurrection, there is no darkness that cannot become light. The powers of darkness remain real, but we now have the choice to die in the dark or live in the light. To choose the light is what it means to be an Easter people. It’s also what it means to be truly human.
This Easter I invite you to enter the light beyond all light, to choose life over death. Then you will with the Church and all creation sing the new song of praise: Alleluia! Praise God for the life beyond all death! May these Easter days be a time of peace and joy for you and your family.
Sainte fête de Pâques
And a Happy Easter to you all.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge