Take away Easter, and hope dies. Take away Easter, and darkness prevails. Take away Easter, and all the sorrow and suffering, all the grief and affliction, all the tears and travail, stand forever unanswered. Take away Easter, and death wins, because if God cannot free Jesus from the tomb, how can there be lasting life—unassailable life—for anyone?
Over the past few months, the world has been shrouded in death. The plague unleashed by COVID-19 has ignited so much fear, so much anxiety and stress and uncertainty, that it is easy to feel that death is winning. How can it not be when each day brings more images of graves hurriedly dug so that more bodies can fill them? How can it not be when people who were thrown suddenly out of work wonder how they can pay their bills and feed their families? How can it not be when a virus not only squeezes every breath of life from a person, but assures that they will die alone?
The answer is Easter. The message of Easter is that behind all the darkness and death, behind all the sorrow and affliction, behind all the pain and loss that can mark our lives together, stands a love that will not be overcome. That is not a fickle future hope; it is the deep down truth of things now. The heart of the Easter gospel—and the truth from which all of us are called to live—is that death may be real and suffering and sorrow and loss may be real, but they are never final and they will never be the last word about our lives, because in the risen Christ we encounter a love that is stronger than death. Easter shouts that God is a God of life and this God of life created all things that they may live; thus, anything that denies anyone life—anything that says to anyone anywhere at any time, “You should not be!”—cannot be from God.
Ordinarily, vocational reflection arises when we are faced with important decisions about our future: Should I marry or stay single? What should I do with the rest of my life? Will this path fulfill or diminish me? Should I say “yes” to this or not? And if I do say “yes,” where will that “yes” take me?
Easter reorders, and perhaps even subverts, how we think about vocation because Easter affirms that if a God who is love and freedom and life wants love and freedom and life for all of us, then our fundamental calling—and one we must answer each day—is to choose life over death. A Christian theology of vocation has to be illumined by Easter because Easter is much more than a feast that Christians nostalgically commemorate once a year; rather, Easter is a truth to live into, a truth to embrace in order to share. Even more, Easter is a joyous and hopeful way of being in the world that impacts every dimension of our lives. With Easter, the human vocation is to choose life and, in doing so, to renounce death in all its wily and seductive forms.
This suggests, as Will Barrett declares in Walker Percy’s novel The Second Coming, that the death we should most fear is “not the death people die but the death people live.” Sometimes the paths we pursue are not life at all, but only death disguised. This happens when our values are skewed, our desires disordered, or when we have lost any sense of what is true and real and meaningful. It happens when we use people rather than love them or when we consistently value ourselves over others. It happens when we devote ourselves to understandings of the good life that result in more death-in-life than life. When this occurs, our calling is to move from death-in-life back to life.
Walker Percy in his yard, Covington, La., June 1977.
Credit: Jack Thornell/Associated Press
From: Walter Isaacson’s “Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes” in the New York Times (August 4, 2015).
In light of Easter, everyone’s vocation is to come out of the tomb; however, it is not always easy to answer that calling. People can feel trapped in tombs of lovelessness and lifelessness. They may desperately want to break free, but the cruelty, abuse, and maliciousness of others—or their sheer indifference—keeps them entombed. Others may be locked tight in tombs of unhealed hurts and deep brokenness, of infidelity and betrayal, or of painful memories that bind them. And we can bury ourselves in tombs of bitterness and resentment, in tombs of endlessly destructive behavior, in tombs of things unconfessed and unforgiven, or in tombs created by attitudes and feelings and perceptions that continually suck life from us. And, perhaps most of all, we may be shut up in tombs because we are looking for life and do not know how to find it.
But sometimes we need other people to roll away the stone—or they need us to do so for them, and that too is an Easter calling. Every person’s fundamental vocation is to choose life over death each day, but no one can do so without the guidance, help, encouragement, and support of others. Easter suggests that sometimes the most urgent vocational question is not What should I do with my future? but What can I do now to help someone move from death back to life? How can we through the power of love, kindness, justice, mercy, and compassion share in God’s work of bringing dead things back to life? How can we help those who have known far more death-in-life than life rise from their graves? With whom are we called to journey until they know that Easter is on its way?
In The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Pope Francis wrote: “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past…Where all seems to be dead…signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up.” When the COVID-19 virus can make it seem that Easter will never come and when the injustice, violence, and affliction suffered by so many millions in our world convince them there is no way from death back to life, perhaps our most pressing calling is not just to look for “signs of the resurrection,” but to do what we can to create them. If we do, no matter what form it might take, death will never win.
Paul J. Wadell is professor emeritus of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College. He is the author of Happiness and the Christian Moral Life: An Introduction to Christian Ethics, 3rd ed. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016); The Christian Moral Life: Faithful Discipleship for a Global Society, with Patricia Lamoureux (Orbis, 2010); and Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship (Brazos, 2002). He leads, with Darby Ray of Bates College, the CIC seminar on “Teaching Vocational Exploration” for NetVUE faculty members. Click here to hear Paul’s “Last Lecture” at St. Norbert’s.