Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday 2010

Parishioners like to forward me jokes, stories and links on the internet. I get a kick out of the jokes, even if they’re often older than I am. And sometimes the things they pass along are so hard to believe that I do some research and write back debunking an urban myth or a plain old error.

One of the most obvious frauds was a series of photos that showed duelling church signs, with a Catholic and a Protestant church duking it out over whether or not dogs had souls. A careful look at the various photos showed exactly the same cars parked in the background of every sign, proof positive it was a computerized prank, not an ecumenical crisis.

Last week a parishioner sent me a video clip called “The Bear.” It was taken from a 1989 movie by the French director Jean-Jacques Annaud. If it had been filmed any later, I’d have been sure it was just more computer wizardry, but in fact it’s an amazing film starring real animals.

Here’s what happens in the short clip, which you can find on YouTube.

A cougar, already snarling, appears on a mountainside. It catches sight of a bear cub some distance away. The predator licks its lips as the cute cub rolls happily in the grass.

After sizing up its prey, the cougar takes a great leap from atop a rock and begins to bound towards the cub. The cub looks up in terror and begins to run as fast as its little legs allow. The cougar pursues it relentlessly, and the distance narrows with each passing second.

The fleeing cub reaches a river, and runs up a fallen tree in a futile attempt to escape, only to have a limb break off and dump him in the fast-moving water. It’s not obvious that the little bear can swim, since he holds on to the log for dear life.

Just when it looks like the river might carry the cub away from his attacker, a waterfall comes into view. The crafty cougar positions himself there, knowing the bear has to get back to land or go over the edge.

And when the cub does get to land, the cougar’s there ahead of him. With a snarl, he swipes his claw across the cub’s snout. The bloodied bear’s only defense is a howl, part pain, part battle cry, but the horrified viewer has no hope for the younger animal against the mature cougar.

A second swipe, and the cub howls in pain.

Then all of a sudden, the cougar falters. He turns tail, and moves away. With relief and some bravado, the cub roars as his attacker retreats.

Then the camera pans out, and we see what’s really frightened off the cougar. Standing behind the small cub is an enormous, full sized grizzly, reared up majestically on its hind legs, growling in unison with the cub. Finally the cub turns, and sees the real reason for its salvation.

It runs to the giant bear, who licks its wounds as the tiny bear whimpers in relief.

Now what, you are all wondering by now, has this to do with Easter?

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lion of Judah.” And so he is: the noblest of beasts of the animal kingdom is a fitting symbol for the victor over sin and death.

But here in B.C., a bear is also a fitting symbol for Jesus, and the story I described can help us think about what His Resurrection can mean for us. For we have more in common with that helpless cub than we may care to admit.

I might be mixing my animal metaphors, but recall St. Peter’s words of warning: “Your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat.” We’re being watched constantly by an Enemy who’s hungry and ready to strike without mercy.

And sometimes our best efforts at self-defence aren’t enough. We feel hopeless, swept downstream like the cub clinging on to the log. Then the devil takes one swipe, and then another. We howl and growl but he won’t back off, and life becomes a brutal contest just to survive.

The enemy may attack in different ways. Sometimes he attacks directly, cougar-like, with the yeast of malice and evil that St. Paul mentions in our second reading. Other times he comes from behind, using what Jesus called the yeast of Pharisees (Matt 16:11).

He may use our failures, or our fantasies; he may exploit illness, depression, or fear. The assault may come when we are young, just starting our Christian journey, or after many years of faithful living.

It may be the fear of death, or the fear of living. It may be loneliness, or financial worry. It may be the burdens of family life.

Perhaps doubts assail us, or lusts defeat us. One of the devil’s favourite ploys is nothing more than discouragement. I can only wonder what he might have done with the downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus if the Risen Lord had not been there instead.

In any of these circumstances, we need to know that ‘Someone has my back,’ as the current expression goes. Someone stronger by far, greater by far, fiercer by far confronts our Enemy if only we will take a stand. If only we will face our fears, the God who loves us as a mother hen loves her chicks (Matt 23:37) or a bear her cubs will defend and protect us.

To expect less from God on the day His Son has risen from the dead is to miss the point. Jesus rose in power. Jesus rose as victor. If he had chosen to roar as he came out from the tomb, all the trees of the world would have been uprooted at the sound.

The second reading is our invitation to let Easter change our lives. Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Why go back to the way things were before?

Why fight the battle alone, when there’s Someone right behind you who promises victory? Why flee in fear when an all-powerful champion wants to turn back the enemy in every attack?

Despite all I’ve said about lions and bears this morning, I promise I won’t use the new sign at the entryway to get into an argument with other churches about whether animals have immortal souls. They don’t!

But each of us has one, and each of our souls is precious to Jesus, our Lord and Redeemer. This Easter Sunday, let’s ask him to defend and protect them from every kind of attack.

Let us confront our demons—and the Demon himself—knowing that the Risen Christ, God of power and might, ‘has our back.’

And as we renew our baptismal promises to Christ, let us remember Christ’s Easter promise to us—a promise of protection, redemption, and hope.

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