Act 10:34-43; Jn 20:1-9 (Easter Sunday, Year A)
|The Resurrection, El Greco, 1600|
One of the most popular movies of this past year was the animated movie Frozen, which tells the story of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who has the power to create ice and snow. One day, the two sisters had an argument and Elsa accidentally froze the heart of her sister Anna. We soon learn that Anna can only have her heart unfrozen - and her life saved - by an act of true love. What could this act of true love be? At first Anna thinks that her heart will be thawed by a kiss from her fiance, Hans. This plan, sadly, is unsuccessful and Anna slowly becomes more and more frozen. Things seem hopeless for Anna. In anger, Hans seeks out Elsa, confronts her in a fit of rage, and is just about to strike her down with his sword. At this moment, Anna arrives on the scene and saves her sister, Elsa, by putting herself in the path of Hans’ sword just as she herself becomes completely frozen. The sword of Hans simply bounces off the now-frozen Anna. Suddenly though, Anna began to un-thaw. In sacrificing herself to save her sister’s life, she had performed an act of true love. I think that what makes the movie so compelling is that its plot of fall, suffering, redemption and new life, mirrors that of the Easter story. Frozen points a lesson that Easter presents fully. It is a lesson about the nature and effects of true love.
From Easter we learn the real meaning of love. Love is perhaps one of the most misused words in the English language. For example, one moment I can tell my mother I love her, then in the next breath I can say how much I love cake. What is love? Is it a feeling or something more? Where can we go to find an answer? For Christians we believe that we discover the true meaning of love by going straight to the source: God. Remember in the letter of St. John we find this incredible definition for God: God is love. It is not just that God is loving. God is love itself. In order to love, then, we need to act and become like God is. We learn who God is, and therefore what true love is, from Jesus Christ. By His words and example, Jesus taught us that true love is laying down your life for another. True love means sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. When Anna sacrifices her life to save her sister, Elsa, she is showing true love. A mother or father who wakes up in the middle of the night to care for their baby, at the cost of their own sleep, is showing true love. A student who gives up their lunch break to help a friend with their schoolwork is showing true love. Jesus hanging on the Cross is the ultimate icon of true love.
Easter teaches us the effects of true love: goodness and life. When love is true, it creates goodness in others. Normally, when we love people it is because of some good qualities we perceive in them. For example, perhaps you love your friend because they have a good personality. You love this good quality about them, but you did not create this goodness. When Jesus, loves, however, He creates goodness in others. In the first reading we find that those who are loved by Jesus become better people as “He went about doing good”. He loves goodness into those He came in contact with. More than this, when Jesus loves, His love creates life, which is the highest goodness of all. This is what the Resurrection is all about. On Good Friday Jesus performed the greatest act of true love by suffering and dying for us. But this was not the end of the story. Jesus’ act of true, sacrificial love, broke the bonds of death and gave life to Himself and to all of us. In the Gospel, Mary Magdalene, Peter and the beloved disciple discover the empty tomb and finally “understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead”. Jesus’ ultimate act of love could not be contained by the tomb and death. In the movie Frozen, we see this principle reflected. Anna’s act of true love brings life and goodness. In sacrificing herself to save her sister, Anna brought life to herself. In addition, Anna’s love for her sister makes Elsa a better person. When you see the movie you notice that after Anna’s act of love, Elsa becomes a kinder and more loving person herself. In addition to teaching us what love truly is, the Easter story teaches us that true love creates goodness and life.
Easter gives us a very simple way to test the quality of our love. Since being ordained a deacon and later a priest, I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of couples preparing for marriage. In our initial meeting, the conversation usually goes something like this:
Me: Why do you want to get married?
Couple: Because we love each other.
Me: How can you be sure that you love each other?
Couple: ummm… (while silently wishing I would stop asking stupid questions!)
From this, we usually get into a good conversation about what true love is. We talk about how it is more than a feeling, that true loves means sacrificing yourself for the one you love. I then explain that there is a very simple test to know if we really do love someone. I first heard about this test from one of my former teachers. He explained:
In order to know if we truly love someone we need only ask if our love for that person has made them better.
A man truly loves his fiancee if she has become a better person on account of his loving her. A woman truly loves her fiance if he has become a better person on account of her loving him. This is the simple, yet profound test of true love.
Today, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the love of Jesus for us which lead Him to die for us and rise from the dead giving life to Himself and us all. Without the Resurrection, we would not be here. It is the central, single most important reality of human history. Easter is the victory of love over death. This Easter let us deepen our understanding of true love. Further, let us take a moment to test how true our own love is. Today let us look at one important relationship in our life, perhaps with your spouse or a friend, and ask yourself a very simple and important question: has this individual become a better person because of my love for them?