He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the first-born of the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent ~ Colossians 1:15-18
It was an early spring Friday afternoon, my little brother and I got off the school bus and walked the familiar two blocks home. As we approached our house we could hear the sound of chainsaws and soon noticed a crew of so-called “landscaping professionals” just about finishing the removal of our neighbor's apple tree. While the roots of this particular tree were definitively on our neighbor's property, the branches hung over a fence by our vegetable garden providing some shade and blocked the view to an ugly bright blue home. My parents liked the tree for these reasons. Our neighbors however had disdain for it, mainly because unlike us they had a pool (may I add that we were never invited once to go swimming) and the apples would fall into it and they would have to fish them out constantly. Because the tree was on their side of the fence, it belonged to them and it was well within their right to cut it down. But we didn’t have to like their decision.
As we entered our house, my mother was quite upset. She said to us, “can you believe they are cutting that tree down. I went over and talked to Janet about it and told her that I really like that tree. Why didn’t she come over and talk to me about it before just cutting it down all of a sudden?” My brother and I took one look at each other and knew how we would avenge our mother after our afternoon snack. We quickly changed out of our school uniforms and grabbed the tennis racquet from the garage.
Now, over the years, we played many games of homerun derby and frequently we would hit the balls over the fence and they would land in the pool. Instead of throwing the balls back over, our frustrated neighbor would just throw them in the garbage or give them to their dog to chew. This history coupled with the apple tree violation was reason enough to inflict the worst type of punishment nine and twelve year old boys could mete out to our unneighborly neighbors.
As we ran outside with our tennis racquet, our massive black walnut tree at the opposite end of our yard still towered brilliantly...and more importantly it couldn’t be touched by our neighbor’s chainsaw. It was a healthy tree that yielded a plentiful harvest of sticky and sappy walnuts from spring through fall. The exterior of a black walnut while it had striking resemblance to a tennis ball was not a tennis ball, the outer coating when dissolved by water treatment chemicals in a pool, would release a black ooze in the water. These would serve as the ammunition for our operation code named Pete Sampras Mad at His Neighbors.
We gathered the fallen black walnuts, finding easily over one hundred of them, and then one-by-one hit them over the fence aiming for the pool. I pitched them to my brother who with incredible precision for a nine-year-old sent most of them swimming. We listened intently for each walnut to make a splash then cheered exuberantly with each new delivery of retaliatory justice. To this day my younger brother and I laugh about how we defended our mom and protected our territory. Our neighbors never confronted us and our parents never punished us, we still like to think we were angels of God’s perfect justice that day.
Alright, I admit I went off the deep end for a moment, and as my brother recently admitted recounting the experience “the amount of black walnuts we hit into that pool was wildly uncalled for [in that situation].” But by now I’m pretty sure you are wondering what this story has to do with Easter. As grossly flawed as the episode of Pete Sampras Mad at His Neighbors is, like Easter at it’s core is all about a son answering the call to restore justice.
Maybe you’ve never thought of Easter like that before - but it is exactly why God sent His only Son to earth; to restore and make His justice perfect through a new and eternal covenant with His chosen people. We can get easily lost in the soap opera of salvation history, but it boils down rather simply. The original sin of Adam and Eve left a gaping wound between humanity and God, that left us unable to attain union with Him. Our Heavenly Father offered us opportunity after opportunity, covenant after covenant, but each and every time we failed to live up to our end of the deal. Through our repeated failures and unfaithfulness, as detailed through the Old Testament, God recognized that we were incapable of restoring our relationship with Him through our own merit. Then, in radical act of love and mercy, “because God so loved the world, He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
What makes this act nearly incomprehensible is that God was not obligated to redeem us, rather He loved us so much and desired to spend eternity with us that He provided “the Way and the Truth and the Life (cf John 14:6)” in the person of Jesus our Christ to restore our access to complete union with Him in Heaven. The manner in which he defeats death is equally unfathomable. He subjected His only Son, the sinless and spotless Lamb, to be slaughtered on a Roman instrument of torture and death for the punishment we deserved for our sins. Simply, Jesus took our place on the cross. Just in case that wasn’t enough for you, He tops it off with a glorious Sunday morning resurrection restoring our life. To us, it might seem wildly uncalled for but that is how much God loves each and every one of the souls He has created - including you.
So whether you’ve vindictively launched walnuts into your neighbor’s swimming pool or sinned in some other seemingly brilliant manner, out of perfect love God left his heavenly throne, came to earth and died for you so that you can have eternal life. In return, He asks that you do your best to love Him. How then do we glorify the Lord by our lives? We spend time with Him in daily in prayer, build up the kingdom through serving our neighbors in need, attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and admit to Him the times we’ve stumbled and fallen in sin by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is the real meaning of Easter and by faithfully carrying our crosses to the finish we will receive the imperishable crown of glory in heaven (cf 1 Corinthians 9:24).