The Epistle I John 5:4
Dearly Beloved: Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God, which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son. He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
Well, here we are; we have now reached the First Sunday after Easter. Somehow, some way, we managed to survive our struggles to maintain our Lenten disciplines. We persevered through the solemnity of Holy Week, as we recalled Our Lord’s Passion, his Institution of the Eucharist, the vigil with the Blessed Sacrament and the remembrance of Christ’s Crucifixion. Finally, we realized the reward for our determination on Easter Eve and Easter Day.
After six weeks of sometimes very intense devotion and prayer topped off by the grand and glorious celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection, now, we can relax. Now, we can take a deep breath, let it out, and get back to our normal routine; Attending Sunday Mass, then eating and drinking whatever we wish, whenever we wish, and in general just getting back to that comfortable life to which we are accustomed. As one of my former Australian friends might say, “no worries”, right?
Ah, but you just know that this is the point that I almost always bring the dictionary into the picture; to relax; “to make less tense, rigid, or firm”. Eh, doesn’t necessarily apply here; “to make less strict or severe, as rules, discipline, etc”. Oh, now we’re onto something. This would apply, given that we’re done with Lent now, wouldn’t it? Well, now, but, here we get this one; “to reduce or stop work, effort, application, etc., especially for the sake of rest or recreation. To make lax: to diminish the force of”. Uh, well, right. If you haven’t already guessed it, this is the definition of relaxation that we usually think of. It is, of course, the type that leads to complacency; in other words, the human sort of “relaxation”.
Naturally, this is not what God had in mind when He raised His Son from the dead; at least not exactly. Oh, to be sure, He does want us to relax about a few things, but I can assure you that it is not the type of relaxation that we may be thinking about. Let me offer to you yet another definition for the word “relax”; “to release or bring relief from the effects of tension, anxiety“. “to release oneself from inhibition, worry, tension”. What God intends is that relaxation that frees us, inspires us with confidence and energizes us to continue the fight.
But wait a minute, you may be asking, isn’t the war already won? Hasn’t Christ himself won the ultimate victory over death? And the answer, of course, is “YES”. That war is over. But the battle continues, as we all know. The battle for souls. The battle that we, as Christians, have been tasked to wage.
But I was talking about relaxation, wasn’t I? So before I go on about the ongoing battle that we must wage, here is the first thing about which we may now relax. “and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith”. Yes Christ, by his Resurrection, has won the victory over death, but it is our belief in that Resurrection that will give us the strength to overcome the evil in this world. It is our Faith that will bring relief from the effects of tension, and anxiety that we allow ourselves to be caught up in all too often. It is our Faith that will release us from inhibition, worry, and tension, and embolden us to speak the Truth and proclaim the Gospel to mankind.
The next thing about which we may relax? “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself”. Jesus told us that we needn’t worry about what to say; he would give us the words. If we believe him, if we have Faith in his Gospel, then we may also be confident that he will send to us his Holy Spirit who will give us the words we need, precisely at the time that we need them; to speak out against evil, and to guide souls to God. If we have Faith, then we may relax, knowing that He will release us from inhibition, worry, and tension.
And what will that message look like? How will we know that the words given to us are indeed inspired by the Holy Ghost? Here too, we may relax; “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son”. Easy; anything that we may think or hear that is in any way in contradiction with this statement is not of God. In other words, whatever we may be so inspired to speak, as long as we are speaking this simple message, “so God loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”, then we may be free from the effects of tension, and anxiety.
So why do we need to focus on these definitions of “relaxation”? Why do we need to be relieved from the effects of tension, and anxiety? Why should we want to be released from inhibition, worry, and tension? Well, it is precisely due to those battles that we must wage, to which I alluded earlier; those battles that we have been commanded to engage, and that we are committed to enjoin.
I remind you of Our Lord’s question to his Apostles on that first Maundy Thursday (John, 13) “Know ye what I have done to you”? In the context of the Gospel lesson for that day, Jesus was referring to the act that he had just performed; the washing of His Apostles feet. But in the afterglow of the Resurrection, we may do very well to ask ourselves this same question today. “Know ye what I have done to you”?
Do we really understand just what the Resurrection means? Do we realize the implications involved when that stone was rolled away? Have we contemplated the repercussions of the empty tomb? And do we comprehend the responsibility that these things have bestowed upon us?
The Resurrection of Christ was not intended so that we who call ourselves Christians may wallow comfortably in our human existence. It was not intended to be a “stopping point” for the Faithful; a place in time where we may believe that we need do nothing more, because Christ has done it all for us. It was not intended to be a source of human complacency.
It was, instead, intended to be a “starting point” for the Faithful; to be a shield to hold before us as protection so that we may overcometh the world. And that shield comes to us in the form of our Faith, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself “. And the Resurrection is also our weapon in the battle for souls; “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son”.
In his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul admonishes us to “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses”. The Resurrection of Christ calls us to this fight. The stone that was rolled away is the release of our inhibitions; the opening of our hearts, minds and tongues. The empty tomb brings relief from our tension and anxiety about death.
The knowledge of this victory over the grave brings us a confidence that inspires, encourages, and energizes us to continue the fight against evil in this world. But most of all, the Resurrection brings us relief from the effects of tension, and anxiety and a release from inhibition, worry, and tension. It allows us to rest easily and to relax, confident in the knowledge that, even as we continue to wage the battle, the outcome is assured because the ultimate victory has been won by Our Lord.