"And very early... they came to the tomb, when the sun had just risen." The darkest hour is the hour before the dawn, and when Christ had died there had been darkness over the whole earth, as though all the centuries of a humanity lost in the twilight of remoteness from God had here reached their final moment, their final intensity, for the dawn was at hand. All the events of the Passion, the betrayal of Judas, the summoning of the priests to the Sanhedrin meeting, the apprehension of Our Lord in the garden, His trial and His torments: all these are in a dark world, the world of sin, because here most fully He was made sin for our sake. But now the struggle between dark and light is over: mors et vita duello conflixere mirando. There is light again in the world, the dawn of a new day for humanity; the Sun has risen. In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum.
Easter Opened a Door to the New Life
The holy women came to the tomb, and the Sun had just risen. "And they were saying to one another: 'Who will roll the stone back from the doorway of the tomb for us?' And looking up they saw that the stone had been rolled back." So it will be with us, if we have made of Lent a real searching for God, a real giving of our lives to God: when we come looking for the new life, we shall find the way open to us, the stone rolled back. "O God," the Collect prays, "who on this day through Thine only-begotten Son didst open to us the gate of eternal life...." The way is open to us; the dawn is ours to rejoice in.
But the dawn-not an end but a beginning! The Angel told them: "You seek Jesus of Nazareth. He is risen, He is not here." Not for us yet the vision, the fulfillment; there is first the day's work to be done. When Mary Magdalen met Him, He was to say to her: "Noli me tangere." Don't cling to Me: the agony is over, yes, but it is not yet time for the care-free enjoyment, the otium, of eternity; there is still work to be done. And so the Angel tells them; "He is gone before you." It is for us to follow-and to follow, to go on working, for as long as He wills.
Christ Still Walks with Us
But we are to follow close, not seeing indeed but at least sensing His presence. "Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum." The Psalmist is addressing himself to God, but we may see a further meaning in the words, an affirmation of the continuing life of Christ our Brother, a continuance for us too, for He is with us still in the world of today. And so the journey through life takes on the appearance, not of a pilgrimage which follows remotely the footsteps of a hero who first trod the way long ago, but of a journey like that of the disciples to Emmaus, companioned by Christ. "Nonne ardebat cor nostrum?" they were to say. Their hearts had been afire with His words, His presence, even before they knew it was He; and we for our part, we know; we have only to listen and to be aware. To share a journey with a friend is to halve its length and its difficulties: with this companionship we need not fear the asperities of the road. "Fear not," the Angel told the holy women before sending them on their journey; and it must be the same with us in our journey through life.
Elements of True Friendship
The disciples at Emmaus, we are told, knew Him in the breaking of bread. The breaking of bread is the symbol of hospitality, of friendship. And we, if we are to live consciously in His companionship, must give Him the marks of friendship in our turn. "Now I call you not servants but friends," He explicitly told His disciples: we have only to do our part. St. Thomas Aquinas, defining charity in terms of friendship, tells us that in friendship there are three elements. First of all, there is benevolentia, which causes us to will the good of our friend, even at sacrifice to ourselves. And we have been thinking of the way in which we can give that gift to God, loving and choosing His will for us at each moment as it comes, willing His will. Then, secondly, that benevolentia has to be mutual in order to make a friendship; and this means more than that each must be ready to give to the other: it means that each must be ready to receive. Some people find it very easy to give to others, but difficult or impossible to accept favors themselves. So, the egoism in us is reluctant to take life as a total gift from God's hands; and we need the humility that will overcome the egoism so that the second element in the friendship may be fulfilled.
But there remains the third essential quality, which is communicatio, a real sharing of life; not just a sharing of superficialities such as exists between acquaintances, but a sharing of the deep things of life, the thoughts and ambitions, the secrets of the heart. Our Lord, for His part, calls us not servants but friends, because, He says, He has made known to us the secrets of God's heart, has shown us the plot of the divine love-story: it only remains for us to do the same.
Sharing Our Lives with Christ
And how do we thus share our lives with Him? We do it, first of all, by that constant reference to His will which we have been considering, and which means that we bring the events of life to Him, we keep nothing away from Him, we make Him-His will and his wisdom-the guiding light in all that we do. But there must also be that constant daily turning of the mind to God which we call the life of prayer, the whole object of which is indeed to make the awareness of His presence a deep and constant possession. It is as with any human friendship: there must be, first of all, the initial stage, the first discoveries, in which, as yet not knowing each other well, we compare notes, ex- change ideas, talk much of our lives and ideas and ideals, the things we like and the things we hate. Then from that sharing of the materials of our lives there comes the second stage: the communicatio is established, there is less need of words, more possibility of that quick understanding and unity of mind and heart which often relies not on words but on silence. So it is with the divine friendship: first the need of words, the need of telling Him-as simply and directly as we would tell a human friend, there is no need of formal language of all the things that make up our lives, the big things but the small things too, the crosses and trials and problems but the joys and gaieties too. And if we are faithful to this daily attempt to talk to Him as a friend, and, if through that sharing of our life with Him in those quiet moments of prayer every day we really come to be aware of Him and to make that awareness a deep and essential element in our life, then it may well follow in time that the need of words will grow less and less, the friendship will become established, secure; and, as in the times set apart for prayer, we may be able simply to rest silently or almost silently in His presence. So, the sense of that presence will not wholly leave us at other times; it will be as a background to all the other activities that make up the life of everyday. And so in those activities we shall be wiser and gentler and stronger and of more service to the human family, because we shall be acting in His presence, and His wisdom will guide us and His love will energize us.
Source of Sincerity and Truth
Thus, today's Collect, which proclaims the opening of the gates of eternal life, prays that God, whose grace inspired our good desires-the desires which the season of Lent formulated for us-may also help us to fulfill them. If Lent has brought us, as it should, a deeper understanding of life, it remains for us now to put into practice what we have learnt, to work the harder while the new day lasts. So, St. Paul in the Epistle bids us "rejoice and make festival, but not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, the leaven of egoism, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, for Christ our Pasch is sacrificed." And the sacrifice continues for us; and we shall find the truth and sincerity of real love and real service in fidelity to that Bread which is the form His visible companionship now takes for us: a fidelity which implies not merely a continual awareness and adoration of His sacramental presence, but also a continuous effort to share in the sacrifice and in all the healing and saving work for the world which that sacrifice involves.
Sincerity and truth: they are the qualities we treasure most in our friends. To put on a mask, to pretend, to say one thing and mean another, to be false: those are things that kill friendship. So it must be if we try to pretend to God: but how foolish of us if we do, since He knows it all, He knew everything about us from all eternity, knows us so much better than we know ourselves! But how lovely to feel, on the other hand, that we can go to Him without any pretense, just as we are, in all our stupidity and sinfulness, and that still we shall not be rejected, and there will be nothing that He will not understand! And we can go to Him, not despondently because of what we are, but hopefully, knowing what in His hands we can become. Surrexit Christus spes mea: we can go forward to meet the new day with all the zest and promise of the rising sun; because we know that He has gone before us into paradise, as on that first Easter Sunday He had gone before them into Galilee, and that there, if only we continue to the end in sincerity and truth, in fidelity to His companionship, there we shall see Him, see Him as He is, in the blazing splendor of the eternal day.