By Peter Fay

In recent years I have grown to appreciate that the month of March is a time of liminality – that is, a time of “in-between.”  In the Northern Hemisphere (and certainly in the cold Northeast where I reside), March – or at least the part of March from which I write these words – means that spring is tantalizingly close but not already underway.  Winter has not yet entirely receded.  Trees are barely beginning to bloom but have not yet fully blossomed.  Spring training has begun, but Opening Day has not yet arrived.  “In like a lion, out like a lamb,” the popular saying goes.  

The “in-between-ness” of this month makes it especially fitting, then, that – at least for this year – March hosts most of Lent and concludes on Easter Sunday.  Our Lenten journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday reminds us that we too occupy the liminal space between our own mortality and resurrected life.  If the latter’s glorious destiny awaits us in the future, the former often seems frighteningly close.  Indeed, to borrow language from the majestic opening to Gaudium et Spes (i.e. the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World promulgated at the Second Vatican Council in 1965), lately it seems like there are many more “griefs and anxieties” than there are “joys and hopes.”  Intense polarization in our nation and in our church, migration, gun violence, climate change, the exploitation of the poor, injustice based upon race, sex, and gender, the plight of those who live without a home or with mental illness, the recently-passed fourth anniversary of the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States – the challenges confronting our world seem endless, daunting, and intractable.  For many of us, problems extend into our personal lives as well.  Friendships fade.  Loved ones are diagnosed with cancer.  Those we care about pass away.  

In the face of such overwhelming problems, is there any basis for the hope that justice will prevail?  That all people will have what they need in order to live in ways that honor the dignity in which they are created?  And what, if anything, can Easter say to or about these problems?  No single column can adequately develop all of the implications of the belief that Christ is raised in response to these problems, but I’d like to focus upon one of the overarching claims of Easter and how we might live upon the basis of it during the “in-between.”  

First, one of Easter’s overarching claims.  Among the many beautiful messages that God conveys through Easter, one in particular has emerged as absolutely central for me: namely, the invincibility of divine love.  Unfortunately, I fear that we fail to apprehend the full beauty of this message too often and too easily.  Sometimes, we miss it because of the holiday’s commercialization (e.g. our obsession with eating chocolate bunnies, decorating colored eggs, and sporting our finest pastel outfits).  Other times, we miss it for the more banal reason that we’ve heard the plot of the Easter narrative so many times that its radical nature no longer shocks us.  

Nonetheless, at its core, Easter is about the invincibility of divine love.  In order to understand this idea, we need to recall what led to the empty tomb.  Jesus’s public ministry to the reign of God rocked the boat.  Jewish leaders did not like the ways in which Jesus challenged their understanding of their religious tradition.  Roman leaders feared his rising popularity would threaten their imperial rule.  These leaders likely believed that with Jesus off the scene, things could return to the “normal” they preferred: the Pharisees would still be able to control the Jewish law, the Sadducees would still be able to control the temple, and the Romans would still be able to control the land.

And yet, when Jesus dies, he does not die into nothingness or oblivion.  Rather, he dies into a power greater than the Pharisees’ control of Jewish law, into a power greater than the Sadducees’ control of the temple, into a power greater even than death itself.  He dies into God’s tender, merciful, unconditional love, and this love raises him.  The beautiful message of Easter is this: that God’s love cannot be overcome or defeated.  We humans did all that we could to try to squash Jesus (and the God whom he incarnates), and in the silence of the empty tomb, divine love prevailed, as it always does.  The victory secured through the empty tomb is the basis of our hope that, ultimately, each of us – taken individually and collectively – will win.  In the next life, we return home into the love from which we were created, and as we live together with and in God in the deepest, fullest way possible, no longer will our “griefs and anxieties” afflict us.  In our union with God, there will be only joyful celebration.

As beautiful as this understanding of the fullness of our resurrected life might be, it ought not to be taken as suggesting that the “in-between” of our lives here and now is ultimately meaningless.  We finite creatures cannot build the fullness of salvation in this life, but this does not mean that we are incapable of building anything good or worthwhile.  We can begin to live as resurrected beings (analogously, of course) here and now to the greatest extent our limitations allow.  The good that we can build in this life is not the greatest good that we are capable of realizing, but it is not nothing either.  In other words, Easter provides not only the cosmic consolation that, ultimately, life will prevail over death, goodness will conquer evil, and love will endure forever but also and especially the motivation to commit ourselves to building a more just world here and now.  We might not be able to fix entirely all of the “griefs and anxieties” that mar our world and our lives, but we can do our part to begin to remedy social ills and to mend broken hearts here and now.  

This Easter, may the empty tomb reassure each of us of the invincibility of divine love and lead us to strive as best we can to make our “in-between” a little more like the way that things will be in the ultimate victory and celebration that await us.

Peter K. Fay is a Roman Catholic theological ethicist who specializes in Catholic social teaching, Scripture, and Thomistic virtue ethics, with particular interest in the flourishing and virtuous agency of people with schizophrenia.  He currently teaches Christian ethics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.