There are really two basic questions in life. One is: Is there any purpose to life? The other is: Is there life after death? All of the speculation of the great philosophers throughout the ages come down to the two questions which are quite simple. All of the questions that we raise in our own daily lives revolve around these two as well.
We can fill life with many occupations and activities. We can be involved in many relationships with others. We can seek and achieve success, status and material possessions. All of these are good in themselves. However, on their own we naturally ask: What is the purpose of all of these? We want to know if they give reason to our existence and truly satisfy a deeper purpose. Ultimately, we seek to know if there is more beyond this life. When our days are completed in this world, we yearn to know if our entire existence is as well. We question as to the purpose of all that we obtain and achieve.
The season of Easter, which we are now halfway through, gives us the answer to these two basic questions in the most affirmative way. Yes, life has meaning, and we are meant to be happy in this life regardless of what we achieve or do not. Yes, there is life after death, and that life is the fullness of life when the limitations and sorrows of this world will be no more.
Part of the Easter proclamation is the cross of Jesus Christ. God loves us so much that He gave us His Son, who for us gave His life unjustly condemned as a criminal on a cross. Christ suffered every physical and emotional pain possible. However, without His Resurrection, the cross is in vain. As St. Paul tells us, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor 15:16). The Resurrection of Christ affirms the meaning of life in its fullest and assures us of our own future resurrection. Again, as St. Paul so affirmatively states, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a human being; for as all die in Adam so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor 15:19-23).
There is a beautiful ancient homily for Holy Saturday that sums up the meaning of Easter and its effect in our lives in a most vivid and moving manner. The homily tells us that after His death on the cross, Christ went to the dead in order to raise up all those who had fallen asleep since the foundation of the world. He went in search of Adam and Eve, and when He found them, Adam, trembling with fear, cried out to all the dead, “My Lord be with all of you.” The Lord took him by the hand and pronounced, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead for Christ will give you life. I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person, and we cannot be separated.”
What moving words these are that sum up well the questions as to the meaning of life as well as to whether there is life after death. Christ pronounced to Adam that He had created him in His image and likeness. This is indeed the meaning of life. We are not an accident of evolution or chance. We are created by God in His image and likeness, and it is only this which gives us dignity, meaning and purpose. Everything else that God has given us is to help us in this realization.
Being made in the image and likeness of God means that we are created for relationship. God is an eternal relationship of love — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This eternal giving is what constitutes the very life of God and is the source of His joy. When He created us, He created us to live in relationship with Him and with one another. That is why He created Adam and Eve as male and female so that, in a bond of marriage, they could give themselves to each other and bring forth life in children. However, our basic relationship is with God, and even the relationship of marriage must be grounded in that or else it becomes void of meaning.
In the ancient Holy Saturday homily, Christ quoted His own words found in the Gospel of St. John. Jesus spoke these words at the Last Supper when he said to His disciples, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. … Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. … I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:4, 5, 11). It is our relationship with God that gives us meaning, joy and eternal life. It is our relationship with God that gives us joy in this world. Christians do not believe that happiness is only to be found in heaven. We believe that God wants us to be happy in this life, but that is not possible unless we are in a real relationship with Him.
The midpoint of the season of Easter gives us much to celebrate. We celebrate that we have purpose in life and that life will go on in eternity. We celebrate that God is with us and that is what gives us joy. We celebrate that the cross of Christ has revealed the depth of God’s love for us and that not even our unfaithfulness to Him will ever stop Him from loving us. During this season, we also stand before Christ as did Adam and Eve in the ancient Holy Saturday homily. Christ says to us as well, “I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. … The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”
May this Easter season continue to be a joyous one for all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 5, 2023