The Word Among Us

Easter 2019 Issue

Lift Up Your Heart—And Raise Your Expectations!

God has more for you this Easter season.

Lift Up Your Heart—And Raise Your Expectations!: God has more for you this Easter season.

Put yourself in this picture: You have a desk job in a medium-sized company. The work is not the most exciting, but it pays the bills, and you like your boss. Now imagine you wake up on Monday morning. What kind of expectations do you think you will have? Probably nothing different than most every other weekday—breakfast, commuting, work, dinner, bedtime. Nothing special.

Now imagine winning a sweepstakes, and your reward is an all-expenses paid week at a luxurious resort. How do you think you will wake up on the day of your departure? Probably excited, right? Maybe you are anticipating lots of days in the sun, gourmet meals, and a seemingly endless array of new adventures waiting for you.

That’s quite a different set of expectations, isn’t it?

Easter Expectations. Let’s apply this kind of thinking to our spiritual lives. What are your expectations like for the six weeks that make up this Easter season? Are they ordinary or high? Are you thinking, “Well, Lent is over. I had a good Easter. Now it’s time to get back to my routine”? Or are you expecting God to draw you even closer to him this Easter and help you experience even more of his life and his love?

High expectations like these make sense, if you think about it. That’s because Easter is all about Jesus overcoming sin and death and offering us a share in his own resurrection. So of course, we should expect great things to happen as we seek him out during the Easter season!

That’s what we want to look at this month. What kind of effect can the power of Jesus’ resurrection have on our lives over these next fifty days? Or to make it more personal, what does the risen Christ want to do in you during this season?

Jesus promised that if we have faith even the size of a small seed, our lives can change. Even seemingly insurmountable problems can shrink down to size as we place our faith in Christ—with high expectations. So let’s see how much Jesus can do in us.

The “Big Moments” of the Gospel. Think of the gospel message as a series of “big moments” in history. The first big moment was creation. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—created each of us in his own image and likeness so that he could share his love with us forever. He gave us a beautiful world to live in and the privilege of loving each other.

But then came a tragic moment. Our first parents disobeyed God, and their sin infected all of creation, including us. Our relationship with God was damaged. Our relationships with each other suffered as well. Separated from God, we became wrapped up in our own selfish drives and desires.

But God loved us too much to abandon us. So the third big moment happened when Jesus came into the world. Jesus emptied himself when he became a man, and then he spent his whole life revealing his Father’s love and mercy toward us. He showed the depth of that love when he allowed us to nail him to the cross. And in his resurrection, he overcame sin and death—for all of us.

Now we are awaiting the final big moment. That’s when Jesus will come back to earth as King and Lord to bring us into his kingdom, where we will live with him forever.

This is the gospel—and it is good news indeed!

A Bigger Picture. Every Sunday at Mass, we recall these “big moments” when we recite the Creed. But it can be easy to lose sight of how big and life changing these moments are. Jesus didn’t come just to save us from our sin and give us eternal life after we die. He also came so that we could receive him—his own life and love—into our hearts here and now. He came so that we could become a “new creation,” reflecting his love and mercy more and more each day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Think about how small the gospel would be if Jesus’ mission were limited just to pardoning our sins. An analogy might help. Imagine that a corrupt businessman ends up owing a loan shark a million dollars. He’s receiving death threats because he can’t pay it off. Suddenly a stranger comes and pays the debt for him. The man is overjoyed because he has been let off the hook. But inside, he’s still the same person. He might even end up repeating the same actions that got him into trouble in the first place. His heart didn’t change, only his external circumstances.

Jesus didn’t want us to end up like this. He didn’t want to just pardon us. He wanted to transform us from within so that we could live differently. This is the fruit of Jesus’ resurrection. This is why he poured his Holy Spirit on us at Pentecost. Because the Spirit lives in us, we can hear God’s voice, find new power over sin, take on his likeness, and become a community of disciples who radiate God’s love to the world.

Now, that’s a big message!

“Divinization.” This promise of receiving God’s life was central to the early Church Fathers, and perhaps no one was more eloquent in describing it than St. Athanasius, a bishop who lived at the end of the third century in Alexandria, Egypt. In his treatise On the Incarnation, Athanasius wrote these famous words: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God” (54). Athanasius explained that God has “divinized” us by uniting us with Jesus in Baptism. Just as Jesus became like us as a man, so God wants us to become like him and be filled with his Spirit.

Of course, “divinization” doesn’t mean that we become gods unto ourselves. It means that God’s Holy Spirit can transform us so much that, over time, we begin to think and act, to forgive and serve, to live and love, just as Jesus did.

Again, this doesn’t happen all at once. It is a lifelong journey, but it is a journey that we can measure. We really can change; we really can look like Jesus more and more each day. And expectant faith is the key.

Living a “Good Life.” Let’s look at the story of one couple to illustrate this point. To anyone who knew them, Joe and Linda had a good life. They had stable jobs, a comfortable home, and adult children who were doing well for themselves. These were things they had hoped for when they were married twenty-five years earlier, and they were content to enjoy these blessings.

Still, they both sensed that something was lacking. With their kids out on their own, it wasn’t enough just to look forward to the next vacation or pay raise. Wasn’t there anything more to life?

Then one day one of Joe’s co-workers invited him and Linda to a weekend retreat. On that retreat, they listened as the presenter talked about God’s love for each of them and how he wanted to be part of their everyday lives. Other people on the retreat shared stories of how they had come to know Jesus in a deeper way and how their lives had changed as a result.

Joe and Linda were deeply moved. They had always gone to Mass on Sunday and supported their parish financially. But now they started to realize that God had much more in store for them.

On the surface, Joe and Linda’s lives didn’t look much different afterward, but they knew something had changed within them. They wanted to spend time with Jesus each morning in prayer and Scripture meditation. At Sunday Mass, they began to feel what they had known to be true for so long: that they were meeting Jesus himself in the Eucharist. They even started to get together for Bible study and dessert with some fellow parishioners who had been on the same retreat.

All this happened because Joe and Linda’s expectations had been raised. They came to believe that God’s love could make a difference in the way they thought and acted. They gradually became more loving and less judgmental toward other people. Strained relationships with various family members began to improve. Encouraging words began to replace complaining and cynical comments. They also felt a growing desire to care for people, just as Jesus did. So they joined ministries in their parish that matched their talents, and they devoted more of their income to the needs of the Church and the poor.

In other words, Joe and Linda were experiencing what it means to take on Jesus’ likeness—to be “divinized.”

Adjusting Our Expectations. Sharing in Jesus’ divine life is meant for everyone, not just the great saints. The gospel is not just a theory or a set of theological principles. It’s nothing less than the person of Jesus himself, who can change our lives as we strive to live out God’s will each day.

So raise your expectations these next fifty days! Ask God to show you practical ways that can help you receive more of the life and love he died to give you. Ask his Spirit to show you the depth of what Jesus did for you. And believe that the resurrection has meaning for you, personally, both in your transformation over these fifty days and, even better, in eternal life. You have new life in Christ—this Easter and forever.