April 15, 2011


Easter symbols reveal the blessings of Good Friday

An essay written by Pope Benedict XVI in the early 1980s titled “ The Lamb Redeemed the Sheep: Reflections of the Symbolism of Easter”should be required reading for all Christians on Good Friday. As his title suggests, the pope offers insights into the major symbols of Easter—light, water, the Alleluia and, above all, the Lamb who was slain for us on the Cross.

Easter requires symbols because unlike Christmas, which is full of familiar allusions—birth, the child, the family—Easter speaks of the unfamiliar experience of life beyond the grave.

When speaking about eternal life, the Holy Father says, “We have no ideas to come to the aid of the words; we are feeling our way blindly in unknown territory and are painfully aware of our short-sightedness and cramped footsteps.”

None of us knows what life after death is like. But we believe that the power of death has been overcome by the infinitely greater power of our Lord’s self-sacrificing love. “He of whom Easter speaks—Jesus Christ—really ‘descended into hell.’ Jesus actually complied with the suggestion of the rich man: Let someone come back from the dead, and we will believe (Lk 16:27f). He, the true Lazarus, did come back so that we may believe.

“And do we? He did not come back with disclosures nor with exciting prospects of ‘the world beyond.’ But he did tell us that he is ‘going to prepare a place’ for us (Jn 14:2-3). Is this surely not the most exciting news in the whole of history, though it is presented without any tickling of the senses?”

The symbols of light, water and the Alleuia help to connect us with the experience of Easter joy. The light of Christ overcomes the world’s darkness and despair. The living water that is Christ refreshes and renews our parched and weary souls.

And “the sung Alleluia shows that the human voice, as well as crying, groaning, lamenting, speaking, can also sing.”

At Easter time, we are invited to summon the discordant voices of creation and transform them into harmony. What a powerful symbol of the transformation that we are called to experience as we relive in our own hearts the Passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

The most powerful symbol of Easter is the Paschal Lamb. “The lamb which lets itself be killed without complaint is a symbol of meekness: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5).

He explains that “the Lamb with his mortal wound tells us that, in the end, it is not those who kill who will be the victors; on the contrary, the world is sustained by those who sacrifice themselves.”

True victory lies in self-denial and sacrifice. But not in gloomy, self-pitying or somber sacrifice. The self-giving love of the Lamb who was slain for us is joyful and life-giving. “It gives rise to that life which imparts a meaning to history, through all its atrocities, and which can finally turn them into a song of joy.”

Laughter, the pope tells us, is intimately connected to faith in God’s Providence. Without faith, the world’s cruelty, sadness and despair overwhelm us. “Where talk of ‘God’ is no longer believable, humor dies; all that is left is a cruel sarcasm or that rage against God and the world with which we are all acquainted.”

According to Pope Benedict, “the Book of Revelation’s vision of heaven expresses what we see by faith at Easter: the Lamb who was slain lives. Since he lives, our weeping comes to an end and is transformed into laughter” (cf. Rev 5:4f). The Cross of Christ is a certain sign that “the history of the world is not a tragedy, the inescapable tragedy of opposing forces, but divine comedy.”

We can laugh and be joyful because Christ’s death and resurrection have wiped away every tear. We can smile on Good Friday because the Lamb who was slain still lives. “No one who has grasped that can ever be utterly despondent and despairing again,” the Holy Father says.

“Your sorrow will turn into joy,” Jesus said (Jn 16:20). Let us celebrate this Good Friday full of laughter and rejoicing. And although we can’t sing it yet, let’s prepare ourselves for the Easter Alleluia. May it burst forth from our lips and our hearts to transform the world’s endless chatter—and life’s groans, laments and sad, sad songs—into shouts of laughter and joy.

The Lamb who was slain lives. May His light dispel our darkness. May His living water refresh our souls, and may His self-giving love fill our hearts with joy.

—Daniel Conway

Local site Links: