By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
What is the meaning of Easter? How would you explain it to someone? How do you explain it to yourself?
One way to get at the meaning of Easter is to see its connection to Christmas. Both these feasts celebrate one beautiful reality: the child Jesus. The beginnings of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke tell us about the virginal conception, birth and childhood of Jesus until he was 12. But at the end of this narrative, there is a very powerful sign that the childhood of this boy is a lot “greater” than 12 years. After having lost him for three days, Mary and Joseph find him in the Temple, where he says to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49).
They lost him for three days. When they find him, he proclaims to them his eternal childhood as the son of his eternal father. There are also three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, three hollow days of an empty tabernacle. When we find Jesus on Easter, we are again reminded of his childhood, for it was “God the Father who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1). Everything marvelous about him, whether as a boy or as a man, is understood in reference to his eternal childhood — his eternally being son of the father. Their intimacy stands behind every moment in his ministry: “the Father who dwells in me is doing his works” (Jn 14:10). Just before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane, the point of no return in his acceptance of the Passion, Jesus explains to his disciples what motivates him: “the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. Get up, let us go.” (Jn 14:31; cf. 8:28).
Jesus was, is and always will be a child, the son in loving union with his father. Their familial intimacy, which is manifested in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35; 3:21-22; Mt 3:16-17), is the very heart of the Gospel. But the revelation of Trinitarian Love – the revelation of God (1 Jn 4:8) – is not the end of the Good News. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were not merely the great “show and tell” of the Holy Trinity. For the will of the father — the reason for which the father sends the son — is to invite us into their familial union: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 6:40). The gift of God is to be like his Son, to be “sent” by him in the power of the Holy Spirit: “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:22-23; cf. 20:17).
We should reread the Bible with this key: the eternal childhood of Jesus. How often does he act like a child! Think of his obedience to the father: it was not martial or slavish, but childlike – it was motivated by love, wonder and trust. Think of the way he taught us to enjoy the gifts of God: do not fixate on the gift but rather on the giver – “do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20). Think of how he taught us to live in love with the father and his kingdom, trusting that all other things, which are secondary, “will be given to you besides” (Mt 6:25-34; cf. 7:7-11).
Our society tends to run away from children and other forms of dependency. The unborn are silenced; the poor and elderly are ignored; the foreigner is scapegoated. Our own weaknesses and dependencies make us miserable, because we want to be strong and independent, owing nothing to anyone.
In short, there is something in us which resents the childlike. So, is it any real surprise that we find it so difficult to see God, our Father? Let us resist the temptations of our age and embrace life with the wonder, gratitude and docility of a child. Remember that only children will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:1-4).
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.