Womb to Tomb: Celebrating Pascha 2016

This year, we are commemorating the day of Christ’s death on the same day that we commemorate his birth. A little weird, but wonderful – and not accidental. First, a little history… then Mystery…

Origin of “Easter”

English speakers use the word “Easter” in reference to the Most Holy Day in Christianity. Most other languages, however, use words rooted in the Hebrew word for Passover, “pesach”, as the ancient Christians used the Greek word, “pascha” for the Holy Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Solemnity of Our Lord’s Resurrection[1]. We are celebrating the Paschal Mystery, after all! This is Christ’s “passing over”; he is the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for us – and risen to glory. The friends and familial loved ones of Jesus celebrated his Resurrection on every Sunday and, as the number of disciples of Jesus grew (and grows) this tradition continues. Within the first two centuries, however, Christians began wanting to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection with especially great festivity and joy once each year. So, the question became, On what date should we celebrate the Pascha?

Calendar Calculations

The key, ancient Christian scholars and leaders believed, was in determining the original date on which Jesus died. Although you might think this would be easy because of the biblical accounts… well, it wasn’t. Finding equivalents in the different solar calendars that Christians used for the days of Nisan in the ancient Jewish lunar calendar, was, let’s just say challenging. (For more on the history, see footnotes[2].) Anyway, in the course of these calculations, ancient Christians also sought to determine dates for celebrating Christ’s birth and conception, and other holy days, always keeping the Pascha as the base, the heart.

Incarnation and Sacrifice

Eastern Christian calculations came up with a date for when Jesus died upon the cross, a date equivalent to April 6, while Western calculations determined that Jesus died on the date equivalent to March 25. In choosing times to commemorate other Mysteries of Christ’s life, including Christmas, ancient Christians, both East and West, seemed to want to give a roundness, or fullness, to his life[3], and, so, chose the day of his conception in his virgin mother’s womb to coincide with the day of his death and burial in a tomb. Beautiful.

Truth and Beauty

We humans have a tendency to get caught up in technical details, calculations, charts, even dates themselves. Scholarly debates still abound on the history of date choosing and calculated dates still differ. But, Jesus did not die upon a cross for the glory of our digital ruminations. He died so that his blood, shed in divine love and mercy, could wash us clean of our sins – and that is something that we are not going to grasp with the math portion of our brains. Jesus came, Jesus comes, to reach the unique and transcendent connections of our minds, to speak to our hearts.

The “calendar date” is not what’s important. What’s important, what’s of earthshaking and ego-shattering importance, is that Christ Jesus is God Incarnate, that he was (is) truly human and truly divine, and that he died for love of us – and rose from the dead so that death will never be the end for any human being. This is why the name of Jesus is above all other names, this is why true Christians willingly sacrifice out of love for God and neighbor, this is why we are a people of hope and joy.

Yet, the dates in the Liturgical Calendar are not without rich significance. The Church lays out the Holy Days for our hearts and minds, so that, throughout the months and seasons, we may enter into the Mysteries of Christ and live intimately with him all year. There is truth in the content of the Holy Days and beauty in the context of their timing. Saint Augustine expresses this reality exquisitely:

For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since.[4]

Ponder This

Beautiful timing is befalling us this year and it is something highly worth reflecting upon …. In the Year of Our Lord 2016, we are called to commemorate both when Christ died and when Christ was conceived on the very same day!

Yes, the Annunciation coincides with Good Friday this year, as ancient Christians in the West believed that it should. Mark it and marvel. The thought gives me a beautiful sense of awe. And that sense deepens when I look upon my local church’s statues of both the Blessed Mother and Jesus on the Cross covered over for Passiontide, wrapped in veils, hidden from our eyes… Mary conceived Jesus as she was overshadowed, covered over, by the Power of the Most High… and, when her son, the Son of God, died on the cross, darkness covered the sky and his body was enshrouded and sealed in a tomb… waiting for revelation to the world…

I gaze upon the veiled statue and I can almost see Mary’s belly pulse and ripple beneath the purple cloth …

veiled Mary copyright

And as I gaze upon the veiled crucifix, I can almost see Christ, wrapped in his burial shroud, the cloth starting to move as his chest suddenly rises with the returned breath of life…

 veiled Jesus copyright

Awaiting the revelation of what is hidden from our sight, we mourn, we hope, we celebrate…

Happy Pascha!

 

© 2016 Christina Chase

Photo credit: Dan Chase, inside St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Suncook, NH


[1] See Religion Facts: Easter

[2] the calendar used by Jews in the first century was lunar, with an extra month thrown in once in a while by the will of the Sanhedrin to keep it in line with the natural seasons. Christians used solar calendars, but there were many different calendars, with different months and dates. See: Catholic Encyclopedia: Easter

[3] in-depth exploration of “integral age” of Prophets with a Jewish source here at National Catholic Register ; Also see : William Tighe’s article   Passover to Easter and Calculating Christmas

[4] Saint Augustine. See: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf103.iv.i.vi.vi.html

Descended to the Dead

underwater

Have you ever submerged yourself under water, like a lake or a pool, and gone down, down, down? The light, if visible, is far-off and distorted, while all around you, enshrouding you, is a seductive, numbing kind of darkness. There’s an oblivious kind of quiet down there and you would stay below. But, within you is the instinct to rise.

You are made to rise – from the pool, the grudge, the self-pity, the addiction…. You are made to rise up, to see clearly, to breathe freely – you are made for the Light.

But, what if your ability to rise is deadened by self-abuse – by sin? Then, all that is good within you will drown. And your soul will die. It is for this reason that Jesus sacrificed himself on the Cross – he descended to the dead so that he may always be with you, so that he may always be with you even in the deepest, darkest abyss. Christ Jesus is there and stretches out his hand, and parts the drowning waters. You need only to reach out for his mercy and he will take hold of you – and raise you up to the land of the living, to the Light.

© 2015 Christina Chase

This concludes a trio of short reflections for the Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Blessed and Joyous Easter, everyone!

Mercy Is Joy or It Is Nothing

What is a joyful Catholic? What is a joyful Christian? Let the answer not be: “a rarity”.

A joyful Christian is not someone who dwells in fear, mistrust, and misgivings. Rather, a joyful Christian is someone who lives in hope and trust and generosity. “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:3.)We are not to go about in gloom, covered always in ashes and sackcloth, bemoaning and wailing the waywardness that is man, groveling in a flood of tears for our sins. Jesus died for our sins. He took on the responsibility of our waywardness and let himself be crucified for our sakes. And then… the glorious “and then”… Jesus rose from the dead. Because of the Resurrection, the true Christian dwells in joy. We are an Easter people.

People often say to me that I am an inspiration. This is not an uncommon thing for a person in a wheelchair to hear. But, not all of us will hear it. Simply being disabled is not very inspiring, after all. But – I am a naturally joyful person. God created me with a sense of humor, an easy smile, and a deep love for the beautiful in all things. When I became a Christian, therefore, it was easy for me to be a joyful Christian – because, even as an atheist (when God spoke to me in secret, a secret kept even from me) God has always spoken to me in the language of joy. So, when people see me all crumpled up in my wheelchair – and genuinely smiling – they are inspired. Loss and limitations, disease and suffering, deformity and pain, fragile body and pending death – none of these things can kill the joy in the human heart, the joy placed there by God. To know this is, indeed, divine inspiration. I did not create it nor do I produce it – it is a gift from God, it is the gift of God, flowing through me.

Today, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, two great popes are being canonized by the Catholic Church as saints. And I am struck by what these two men have in common. Yes, yes, they were both popes. But, they were also, perhaps most importantly, joyful Christians. John XXIII was known for his smiles, jokes and friendliness, his enthusiasm for people. And John Paul II, more widely known by people in our time, was renowned for his love of life and his joy in all things beautiful – especially his joy in humanity. Oh, these men knew suffering, deep suffering. And these men spent many hours on their knees, these men cried and wept, these men could be angered by injustice – but nothing squelched the joy. The joy that is Christ, Christ Risen, Christ Glorified. Alleluia.

Jesus, while he walked and talked upon the earth, told his followers over and over again, “Be not afraid.” If we truly have faith, that is, if we truly trust in God, then what do we have to fear? If we have hope, believing in the resurrection of Christ, who is our living hope, then we not only know mercy, but we are revolutionized by mercy, living it day in and day out. And if we have love, true love… then we know true joy, deep, eternal joy.

And we are ever and always an Easter people.

Let us go to those who are wounded, and to those who inflict wounds, and let us pour out the healing mercy of God with all of our faith, with all of our hope, and with all of our love. With the knowing peace that is joy! Let us live the mercy of God, thus living the fullness of humanity, the fullness of life.

© 2014 Christina Chase

Easter Hmm…

“Christ is risen!  He is truly risen.  And now you have been given eternal life.”

…..What am I going to do with it?