A new world dawned from that empty tomb on Easter morning, and the world would never be the same again. Fr Mark talks about tragedy and hope in this month’s chaplain video.
by Fr Mark Baumgarten, CYM Chaplain
A number of years ago I was at a work party, and during the conversation an atheist workmate noted that she had recently attended a theatre performance of an ancient Greek tragedy. She was struck by just how utterly depressing and lacking in hope it was, and she seemed genuinely puzzled by this, with her unspoken question being “Why?”
It’s a good question. Why was ancient Greek theatre—and indeed much of the ancient world—pervaded with a sense of tragic hopelessness? More to the point, why was my atheist workmate so struck by this reality more than two thousand years after the fact?
After all, most of the ancients probably wouldn’t have considered their culture to be pervaded by hopelessness. They had many fine cultural achievements, and many fine people. More importantly, they would not have been able to see what my workmate saw in their culture, because they knew nothing else. Such a view of life was simply normal. We are able to recognise it for what it is because we have some distance from it – we live in a new normal.
So what happened? What caused this dramatic cultural change, such that from our
present vantage point we can recognise a profound hopelessness throughout much of the ancient world? What happened between then and now?
Easter. That’s what happened. A new world dawned from that empty tomb two thousand years ago, and the world has never been the same since.
You and I live in a culture that for two thousand years has celebrated the risen Christ’s victory over death. Resurrection. Redemption. Hope. These powerful themes resonate with us, because we live in a world upon which the Easter light has dawned.
And I must emphasise that Easter hope is not mere optimism. It is not grounded in soothing rhetoric or the pleasantness of favourable circumstances: indeed, it was born from the most unfavourable of circumstances. Easter hope is grounded on the proclamation that the worst event that has ever happened in human history—the execution of the Son of God—was divinely transformed into the best event in human history: the salvation of the world.
Easter is the definitive revelation that the one true God is not like one of the petty, self-preoccupied gods depicted in ancient theatre, but that our God is fundamentally and irrevocably on our side. Easter emphasises the fact that, if our God can take the utter horror of the Crucifixion, and turn it into the sheer joy and glory of the Resurrection, then nothing is beyond God’s ability to heal, and transform, and use for his wonderful purposes. None of our sins, none of our sufferings, none of our deaths are beyond God’s power to transform into something good, and true, and beautiful.
Despite all the human mess in the Church, despite all the hypocrisy and sinfulness, Easter hope has always been the beating heart of the Christian revelation. And regardless of what someone might think about Christianity, it is undeniable that the celebration of Easter for centuries on end has had a profound effect on those areas where Christianity has taken hold.
It is as though Easter hope has been released into the atmosphere, and all of us, whether believers or not, have breathed it in unwittingly and had it influence our worldview. You could go so far as to argue that every Hollywood happy ending or tale of redemption is a direct result of the Easter miracle. Furthermore, the globalisation of Western culture and the residual Christian footprint therein has now left no land untouched by at least the hint of Easter hope.
So it is no wonder that from our vantage point, the ancient world comes across as noticeably devoid of hope. And we should be aware that it is precisely the hopelessness of the ancients that our culture risks if it goes too far in renouncing its Christian heritage.
It is an enormous blessing for us to live in a world that has been profoundly influenced by the joy and hope of the Resurrection. So many people take it for granted, but as even my atheist workmate saw, it has not always been this way.
Though our Christian pilgrimage in this passing world will always see us live in a kind of exile—strangers in a strange land—we believers know that the ultimate victory is already won – that death no longer has the final say. And so, as Saint John Paul II often said, we are an Easter people, and “alleluia” is our song.
Christ is risen! A new world has dawned! This indeed is very good news.