I pride myself on my ability to make people laugh, but usually such an effect is intentional. Yesterday it wasn’t.
A dozen French people and I were having a beer at my Burgundian tennis club. One of them invited me to play doubles at noon today, which invitation I politely declined, saying I’d be at mass.
Everybody present laughed. They found it risible that a seemingly intelligent man would indulge such a ludicrous superstition. They thought I was joking; I thought they were barbarians – and not just because they were atheists.
For it was Easter Sunday 2,000-odd years ago that changed man and his world for ever.
Hellenic man had always struggled with death, its finality, its cruelty, its nothingness. Death seemed to render life meaningless, deprive it of any sense of purpose.
Life itself had to be regarded as the purpose of life, and the Hellenes, weaned as they were on logic, couldn’t fail to see a self-refuting paradox there.
To be sure, there were all sort of Orphic fantasies about afterlife, but that’s what they were and were seen to be – fantasies.
And then, on this day, 2,000-odd years ago, people weren’t merely told but shown that, just as there is death in life, so there is life in death.
Now they knew there was no such thing as a happy end to life. If it was to be happy, it was not the end.
There had never been such rejoicing, never such an outburst of hope and liberating energy. Imitating God in Christ became more than just man’s moral commitment. The ability to do so had become his ontological property.
Man was no longer a lodger in the world; he had become its eternal owner. He could imitate Christ not only by being good but also by being creative. And create he did.
Thus, on this day 2,000-odd years ago a new civilisation was born, the likes of which the world had never seen, nor ever will see. More important, a new family came into existence.
Universal brotherhood became a reality: all men were brothers not because someone said so, but because they all had the same father.
This unity was a bond far stronger than even the ordinary, what is today called ‘biological’, family. And it certainly betokened a much greater concord than any worldly alliances, blocs, contracts, agreements, political unions – or for that matter nations or races.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” explained St Paul, making every subsequent, secular promise of equality sound puny and vulgar.
It has not always worked out that way. Just like the ancient Hebrews, who were dispersed because they broke God’s covenant, the world pushed aside the lifebelt divinely offered.
It tried to find unity in itself – only to find discord, devastation and the kind of spiritual emptiness for which no material riches can possibly make up.
But the lifebelt was not taken away. It still undulates with the waves, still within reach of anyone ready to grasp it.
This makes today the most joyous day of the year – regardless of whether or not we are Christians, or what kind of Christians.
On this day we can forget our differences and again sense we are all brothers united in the great hope of peace on earth and life everlasting. We can all, irrespective of where we live, rejoice on hearing these words, ringing, thundering in whatever language they are uttered:
Christ is risen!
Le Christ est ressuscité!
Christus ist auferstanden!
Cristo ha resucitado!
Cristo è risorto!
Kristus on üles tõusnud!
Kristus er oppstanden!
Kristus vstal z mrtvých!
Kristus ir augšāmcēlies!
Christus is verrezen!
Kristus är uppstånden!
Kristus nousi kuolleista!
Hristos a înviat!
INDEED HE IS RISEN! HAPPY EASTER TO ALL!