In Soviet Russia, a journalist from a state-sponsored TV station went outside a church in Leningrad and approached a woman coming out from the liturgy. In typical Soviet sarcasm for all things religious, he asked her: “Does being a Christian make you happy?” She remained silent for a while and then firmly said to the journalist: “I suffer like everybody else. One does not become a Christian to be happy, but to be alive!” Surprised by the answer, the journalist cut short the interview. This simple but profound answer could not be more relevant in the context of the central mystery celebrated today by all Christians around the world – the event of the Christ’s death and resurrection.
For the second year in a row we are not allowed to gather in community to celebrate Easter. Even beyond COVID-19, how does the good news of Easter coincide with the seeds of death that seem to have not only sprouted in our life, but have sometimes even rooted themselves firmly in our stories. Death manifests itself not only physically but also in those which we might call partial deaths, those realities in our lives that feel like a tomb – the failures, disappointments and hurts that seem to leave an indelible mark on our memory, sucking the very life out of us.
While the English language has just one word for ‘life’, classical languages like Greek (the language used in the writing of the New Testament) are more nuanced. In the biblical jargon we speak of bíos for life that is tied to the wellness of our bodies, perhaps the most fragile and mutable. We also speak of psyché for the life that we associate with our identity, our personality and our will, where our ideals and desires come from. This psyché life is also highly dependent on our wavering will.
Every crisis is, in fact, a descent into death, but it is exactly in that place that feels like hell that Christ is triumphant
Jesus speaks of another life – zoé – that is particularly hidden and can only be given as a gift. It is the life he promises to all who make the death-inducing choice of trusting him (the death of our egos and of that inner struggle to preserve our bíos and psyché life at all cost).
If somebody had to ask me “do you feel alive?”, how would I respond today? The right answer is another question: what life are you talking about? Do I have in me that zoé-life that comes from a definitive rite of passage, that of baptism? Or do I find myself clinging to bíos and psyché in the midst of those crises that life has a habit of throwing at us?
Every crisis is, in fact, a descent into death, but it is exactly in that place that feels like hell that Christ is triumphant: He conquered death through death! Today we remember that in Jesus, we are men and women of the resurrection; we have in us a life that nothing and nobody can take away.
What makes Christians who they are is not a naïve sense of happiness. It is rather a hidden but true conviction that they are alive! Convinced of the life that we received, we become more compassionate with the death that is in others, and Easter becomes a fragrance that fills our homes, our work and everything we do. Are you alive?