I have known people who thought their lives were wonderful, or at least happy, or at least good enough – until something awful happened to them or to people they love. I have known people who, from an early age, suffered in ways and degrees that convinced them – and others – that their lives could never be wonderful, or even happy, or even good enough.
The message of Easter, the holiest of Christian holy days, is that eventually, through the infinite grace of Jesus Christ, when all our becoming is done, our lives can and will be good enough.
We are about the business of becoming – by our own choices, by our responses to others’ choices, and by our actions and attitudes in circumstances which are no one’s fault. You don’t need me to tell you that we’ve been sent to do our becoming, for now, in a challenging and painful place, in the valley of sorrow and the shadow of death. God is raising children, you see.
His parental expertise dwarfs all of ours combined, but many of us know a thing or two about parenting. Even here, where we see “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), we can understand or at least conceive that, in raising children, you keep them at home for a while – eons, for all we know – until they are prepared for greater lessons and greater challenges. Then it’s time for them to go away – not forever, and not without calling home regularly, but far enough that they can learn to act independently, and learn and become everything else necessary, in order to return to their parents’ home eventually, not just as children, but as heirs.
The long view, when we can cling to it, and when we can believe its validity for ourselves, not just others, can comfort us and give us hope amid the sorrow and pain of our becoming. It can be our light in the shadows and mark our path through the valley.
The gifts of Gethsemane and Calvary are three: redemption, divine empathy, and sanctification.
Redemption means that our becoming is not wasted by the fact that we’re not sinless and otherwise perfect in the process. Christ paid the infinite penalty that justice demands for our sins. (Matthew 26:28)
Empathy means that the many burdens of our becoming are fully known to the Son of God, on a personal, experiential level – according to the flesh, as one prophet put it (Alma 7:11-12) – and He is fully qualified to help us. Jesus walked not just a mile in our shoes, but every mile, as if on our own feet.
Sanctification is another name for becoming. It is the gradual perfection of godly attributes in us, the gradual removal of their opposites from our hearts and habits, by the patient power of God. No other force can propel us through the process of becoming fit heirs and companions of deity — beings who, upon returning home, will be happy and welcome there forevermore. This, too, comes by a Savior’s grace. (See Mosiah 3:19.)
One More Gift
The gift of the empty tomb is resurrection – the present promise and eventual physical reality that death itself is merely a necessary step in our becoming, not its bitter end – a comma, if you will, not a period. It is the divine guarantee that our becoming is not in vain, not lost when we leave this mortal school, whether early or late. (See Matthew 27:52-53; 28:5-7.)
In many circles it is not fashionable to believe in a personal, literal, physical resurrection. Nor was it fashionable in the world where the early Christians believed, where no one properly educated in Greek philosophy would even want anything physical to continue eternally. But fashion and truth have no necessary connection, and rarely enough an accidental one.
He Is Risen!
These four immeasurable gifts give meaning and permanence to all other good things in our lives. They tower above the many practical and doctrinal concerns which absorb us in the body of Christ. They dwarf our passing preoccupations with who gets to do what in the Church, and when and why and how. They bear sure witness of a time beyond time, when all that is good will continue, and all that is not will fall away.
So today – as we might on every Sabbath and every day between – from the depths of our struggles and our modest heights of mortal joy, we raise our grateful voices to rejoice that “he hath opened heaven’s gate,” that we will be “risen to a holier state.”
He is risen! He is risen!
. . .
Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory. (Cecil Frances Alexander, “He Is Risen”)