Born Again to a New Life
We have to die to ourselves and be born again to a new life. Jesus Christ obeyed in this way, even unto death on a cross; that is why God exalted him. If we obey God’s will, the cross will mean our own resurrection and exaltation. Christ’s life will be fulfilled step by step in our own lives.
Christ is Passing By, no. 21
“He has been raised; he is not here. But go into Galilee; there you will see him” (cf. Mk 16:6-7).
It has been said that you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from. If you don’t know your origin you can’t get to your goal. History is also said to repeat itself for those who don’t know their own history. On the other hand, people who have a sense of their identity confidently and naturally act according to who they are. They don’t need to impersonate or playact, groping for identity. They can be who they are with confidence.
Our story as Christians begins tonight, at the great Vigil of Easter. We were all born tonight. As Christ emerges from the tomb we must rethink our origins, and our destiny. The Vigil’s several readings narrate so many ways in which God brings us to birth and makes us live anew.
As the Scriptures unfold, we stand by and watch while the world is created. We see the stars at their posts shine and rejoice and answer the Lord, “Here we are!” We even see our father and mother made fresh from the earth and filled with the breath of God. How beautiful and pure and innocent and strong they were, standing upon the earth together, beholding each other in peace and joy and gratitude.
We see Isaac born again, as he was practically brought back from the dead. We are among the Israelites as they hurry across the dry ground between two towering walls of water. Together we sing of our new birth on the opposite shore, and watch while our enemies perish beneath the collapse of the waters.
From the prophets we hear such things as “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” Or, if we cling to wisdom, then “all who cling to her will live.” And Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit, and make you live.” St Paul finally tells us: “You must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” Tonight, the night of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is our birthday. And we will confirm that new birth at the font, as we renew our baptismal vows before God and each other.
As Christians, we have to know our own story, our own biography. We have to know where we’ve come from that we might know how to walk in newness of life. And the truth is that we were born again in a tomb. Christ, our Life, has come forth from the grave. From the place of corruption and stillness, a green and flowering stem has grown and blossomed. Jesus has shown us a power and hope tonight that makes us rise from sleep, that makes us stand up, that makes us run, that makes us sing praise to God, for He is gloriously risen, gloriously triumphant: He has cast into the sea everything that could make us doubt or fear!
“He has been raised; he is not here. But go into Galilee; there you will see him.” Where is He now, tonight? Not in Galilee. Before the disciples have time to turn around and start out on their return journey, Jesus will meet them. They are amazed and terrified and Jesus will meet them there, in that agitated, excited state.
This is how we live reborn in Christ. This is the new life, the new creation. This, in our Lord’s own words, is what it means to be “children of the resurrection.” It is to live by the truth that the same God who made our world, our first parents, who saves us from evil, who intervenes in times of fear, who promises renewal, a new heart and a new spirit, is the same God who walks out of the tomb to meet me in my confusion and fear, as He did for all of the disciples on that first Easter morning. And He enables me to live with it and through it and so find new life on the other side of it.
Obviously we have to die to ourselves when it comes to sin. But we also have to die to distrust. Each disciple, our Lady excepted, had to relearn trust in the Lord who had promised rising on the third day. As much as sin constitutes a ball-and-chain for our spiritual life, yet a lack of trust in God makes sinning into a needlessly hopeless spiral. We can never break free as long we don’t practically believe that the promise of the resurrection can play out in my daily struggles, that I can rise up after a fall.
Thus on the night of the Paschal Vigil we do not want to think much about ourselves, nor become preoccupied with our sins. We want to think about Christ in glory. In fact, everything about the Easter Vigil points us to Him: the darkness broken and scattered by simple candlelight, the incense, the chant: holy light, sacred fragrance, holy melody. His glorious risen Body is in our thoughts; His words are in our ears and on our lips.
As sinners, we must train ourselves to see ourselves in the light of Christ’s Resurrection. This is often the hardest thing to do: to live according to what we believe. We often turn away from the one reality that should inspire all we say and do: the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. If we try to live in reality apart from the grace that Christ has brought us by His resurrection, we are not living in reality at all. We are in a prison, confined within ourselves and our limited view of the world and of eternity. We limit who God is for us and what Christ wants to do for us.
But sin does not have to master us. We can be forgiven and share in Christ’s life. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem addresses these very concerns and difficulties that catechumens have, and that every Christian has to some extent.
God is a lover of man, and a lover in no small measure. Do not say: ‘I have been a fornicator and an adulterer; I have committed grievous sin, and not once but very often. Will He forgive me? Will He pardon me?’ All of your sins cannot surpass the greatness of God’s mercies. Your wounds are not beyond the healing skill of the great Physician. Only surrender to Him with faith; tell the Physician of your sickness.
The whole thrust of His catechesis is: you have sinned and you can be forgiven; surrender to Christ the healer. Really believe in Him. Do not simply mouth the words of the Baptismal vows, or the words of the paschal chants, but believe them. Live by them. From time to time we still live in a kind of tomb, alone, without Christ. In the one place where He most needs to be, we have closed Him out—not by a stone, but by failing to believe His promises.
But what Christ tells us on Easter morning changes everything, if we would not only believe it, but act on it: “I have arisen,” he says, “and I am with you still.” We are not abandoned in our sins, but joined on the road of our new life (Emmaus-like) not by one who merely knows the way, but is the Way. He knows where we’ve come from and where we’re headed: not to a tomb, but to a home of His making.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community’s seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.