Easter: From Sacrifice to Salvation
Recently I was going through some of my classical CD's and I came upon Anton Dvorak's New World Symphony. I hadn't heard it for a while, so I popped it in and then reflected on the times that Dvorak was portraying in music. Dvorak was born in Bohemia in 1841. He became popular in Germany and then in England in the 1880's. In 1892 he became the Director of the New York National Conservatory. During this time he wrote his 9th Symphony which he entitled, "From the New World." He wrote from America at a time when thousands and thousands of people from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Poland were migrating from the homes their ancestors lived in for centuries to find a new life and a new world.
My grandparents were part of this immigration. Perhaps your grandparents or great grandparents were also on those long lines on Ellis Island, still sick from the sea voyage, frightened by the sights around them, wondering what was going to become of them in this new strange land.
It is hard to imagine the sacrifices they had to endure. There was the sea, the language, the search for a place to live, a job in a hostile job market. They were accustomed to receiving respect in their home towns and villages. They were belittled and insulted by many in America. Still, they endured all. Why? They wanted a better life for their children and grandchildren. It was more than their not wanting their children to go hungry. They wanted their children to be able to break out of the silent caste system of Europe. They wanted their children to become professionals if they could. They wanted their children to have the best of lives without any external limitations. So they sacrificed their own positions of respect in their community, their own homes, their own countries, their futures, for the sake of a new world for their children.
Jesus the Christ longed for a New World for God's children. He longed for a world where they would no longer be confined in a mortal prison by hatred, by paganism, by materialism. He grieved over people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Their lives were pointless. They wanted meaning but could not find meaning. They spent millions of dollars on self-help books. They went to gurus and practiced transcendental meditation. They gave the New Age a try depending on themselves to provide everything. And they ended up with nothing. They killed themselves to make enough money to own everything this old world could produce. And they ended with nothing of lasting value. Jesus would lead them to the New World, a world which would give meaning and happiness to their lives. But the journey to the New World would take sacrifice. A Tremendous Sacrifice from a Tremendous Lover. And so Jesus allowed the world to do its worse to him. The terrible sacrifice took place on the cross on Good Friday. The New World was proclaimed on Easter Sunday.
Jesus invites all to join him on the journey to the New World. This journey demands that we also sacrifice. It demands that we reject the old, dead way of life. The journey demands that we accept being alone in a world full of mockers. They tell us that we are wasting our time, our money and our energy on religion. We tell them that we would rather be in the minority with Jesus than in a majority that rejects him. We suffer from others. We suffer from our efforts to overcome our own selfishness. We suffer, we sacrifice, even to the point of death with Jesus. All so we can have the New Life in the New World of the Lord not just for ourselves, but for our children. For if we do nothing more in our lives than lead our children to the Lord, then our lives have been a total success and have had infinite value.
"Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too might live a new life." That is from the first New Testament reading during the First Easter Mass, the solemn Easter Vigil. I love this reading. It reminds us that it isn't easy being a Christian, but it is worth the sacrifice. Our lives have meaning, and purpose and beauty because we are not satisfied with the shallow existence of materialism and self-gratification. Jesus has called us out of this darkness and death and given each of us the ability to make his presence real for others. If we just allow God to work through us, if we just strive to be that unique reflection of his love he created each of us to be, then we will come out of the tomb of selfishness this world buries us in and live eternally.
The tomb is empty, Mary Magdalene, sinner who lived it up, but then found life by rejecting her life. The tomb is empty Mary. But the world is full. The Savior Lives. May his life change the world. May we let his life change the world. For the world craves his New Life. And we need a New World.