(Rev. Craig Boly, S.J,. pastors St. Pius X Church in Beaverton. The church meets at 1280 N.W. Saltzman Road. For more information, call 503-644-5264 or e-mail [email protected]_pdx.org.)
Some people like to collect tombstone epitaphs. This one is in memory of an accident: Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
This light gallows humor disguises the human fear of death. This fear goes right to the heart of the Christian belief about Easter. Death was not the last word for Jesus of Nazareth.
The key question this side of the grave is - what does Easter mean for us?
Since I was raised in the Christian tradition, I based my belief about the meaning of the resurrection on the testimony of others. It wasn't until I first worked as a priest in a hospital that I experienced the resurrection myself.
The doctors told me that the old woman in Room 849 was so full of cancer, there was no explaining how she could still be alive. What kept her alive was the white-hot flame of hatred for the husband who had deserted her years before. The doctors said that she was a Catholic; perhaps the priest could help.
When I first entered her room, the woman's face was clenched and dark with hurt. When her eyes opened and she saw my collar, she whispered two clear words, 'Get out.'
I retreated to the nurses' station. As a rookie priest, I didn't know what to do. The nurses recommended that I wait until she was asleep, and try again. I followed their advice. When she was asleep, I pulled up a chair and sat next to her bed. And prayed. When the woman in Room 849 stirred awake, I took her hand. I told her how sorry I was for her suffering, and asked if it was all right for me to pray the church's anointing of the sick. She was either too tired or too lonely to say no.
On her forehead, I applied the fragrant oil with the words, 'Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.' And on her hands, 'May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.'
Immediately I noticed a change in her appearance. Her face relaxed, a warm light seemed to shine from her face, and a tear rolled down her cheek. She lay there holding my hand with eyes closed and face shining for about three more minutes. Then she died. She didn't say anything. She didn't need to do anything. She simply received the deliverance she needed to die peacefully.
This was my first experience of resurrection. Now I believe that God brings life out of death not because the tradition tells me, but because I have seen the meaning of Easter myself. Easter means the promise of new life in what was dead.
Let me end with a rather sober epitaph:
Remember man, as you walk by,
As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. Remember this and follow me.
To which some wag replied by scribbling on the tombstone: To follow you I'll not consent Until I know which way you went.
Easter says we know which way Jesus went - and where we shall follow because of him.