Leave the Struggle In There

The legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon grew up in the borough of Queens in New York City.  Yet, when Simon & Garfunkel first went on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and Mr. Simon was asked where he was from, he spontaneously lied and said “Macon, Georgia.” It sounded like a real place with a real meaning, he later said, not just someplace waves were passing through.

Almost forty years ago, Pope John Paul II was concluding a visit to Australia.  At the conclusion of celebrating mass there for a final time, he said:

Faith is our source of joy. We believe in a God who created us so that we might enjoy human happiness – in some measure on earth, in its fullness in heaven.

We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”  We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith, that grows through unselfish love, that respects the fundamental duty of love of neighbor, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of Joy. We realize that joy is demanding; it demands unselfishness; it demands a readiness to say with Mary: “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”

Resurrection is not just an event we celebrate once a year.  It is a place, a location, a way of seeing the world and seeing our life in that world.  Crucially, being an Easter people is a “real place with real meaning.”  Amid a culture where nearly everything seems to lack substance and permanence, Easter puts a claim on our lives and an expectation that we will see our living as shaped by hope and joy.  As my friend and colleague Rebecca Gurney preached to her congregation on Easter Day, “Easter is coming for our assumptions; Easter aims to undo anything that stands between us and the hope unleashed on the world in the resurrection of Jesus.”

We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!

That song, that hope, that joy, does not exist, as Pope John Paul II reminds us, if we turn away from pain and struggle and pretend everything is beautiful, even when we know it’s not.  Sixty years after he lied to Dick Clark on American Bandstand, Paul Simon, now in his 80’s, woke up one day to discover he had lost hearing in one ear.  Commenting on Simon’s new album Seven Psalms, Peggy Noonan writes:  “He couldn’t hear his music the same, his voice sounded different; it used to come from here and now it was there. He fell into depression, got out of bed, searched for remedies and workarounds. In time he thought maybe the whole thing—the dream, the words and sounds, the songs, the deafness—was part of the same whole, one he was meant to grapple with. Maybe the struggle helps you know what you know in a deeper way.”

Wynton Marsalis, another great artist and Mr. Simon’s close friend, told him, as he recorded, to “leave the struggle in there.”

Easter gives us no exemption – nor should we want one – from the struggles of life in the wake of resurrection living.  Hope, joy, life, love – they call come to us in the deepest way in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That is a real place with real meaning for us.

We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song! 

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