Ring the bells and dance with the sun

By Len and Mary Regan

Mary and Len Regan live in Newcastle.  They have three children and three young grandchildren and are just settling into retirement. They have had a long association with the Redemptorists. Being able to share with each other their deepest thoughts on life and faith has been one of the many blessings of their forty years of marriage.

Easter 2010 will be the 42nd Easter we have shared as a couple, but our journey to what the Resurrection means to us today started some 60 years ago with each of us growing up in the religious environment of a Catholic family. 

The sun was dancing for joy because Jesus had risen from the dead ...

Len’s early memories of Easter stem from his days as an altar boy.  “I remember the excitement of the special rubrics of the Easter ceremonies, the time out of school to go to practice sessions, the opportunities to do things around the church that we didn’t normally do, and especially being able to ring the school bell in the convent yard in the middle of the night during the singing of the Gloria at the midnight Mass.”

Mary’s abiding memory of Easter as a child is of the sun.  “When I was little, my mother would point out the sun on Easter Sunday morning.  She told me it was dancing for joy because Jesus had risen from the dead.  For many years I did believe the sun danced on Easter morning, and that sense of the glory and joy of the Resurrection stayed with me for a long time.  In fact, we were able to capture the sun dancing at Catherine Hill Bay on Easter Sunday morning in 2005!" (see photo to the left)

During our childhood and for many of our adult years, we celebrated Easter as a commemoration of Jesus’ death and his “triumph over death”, the Resurrection.  We took part in the church ceremonies. We went along with the church teaching that because Jesus had risen and “conquered death” we too would rise on the last day.  But it had no present context for us – the Resurrection was a mystery that had happened to Jesus, who was God, two thousand years ago.  We couldn’t really see its relevance to our own lives.

We were both going through a ‘confusion of faith’ looking ... to see our mission in life more clearly

In more recent years as we’ve studied the Gospels, listened to homilies, attended faith seminars and discussion groups, we’ve each become more and more aware of inconsistencies and contradictions between the teachings of Jesus and the continuing emphasis within the church on rules, regulation and conformity to certain beliefs.  Mary expresses it this way: “Jesus, by his words and by the way he related to people, simplified the Law to mean love God and love your neighbour.  If this was the way Jesus encouraged us to live, why was the Church making it so complicated, dogmatic and even authoritarian.  Believe this!  Do this!  Say this!  Conform!  And yet the church had always been a big part of my life – its teaching was not something I could ignore lightly”.  We were both going through a ‘confusion of faith’ looking for an interpretation that would help us to see our mission in life more clearly.

Jesus did not waver from carrying out his mission on earth ...

It was in this frame of mind that we decided to attend the series of talks on “the active life and public ministry of Jesus as a model for ministry today” given by Fr Kevin O’Shea C.Ss.R as preparation for Easter 2009.  As we listened to his words, we realised that here were the interpretations and the insights we had been looking for and the answers to many of the questions we had been asking each other.  For Len this was particularly significant: “I have always held Fr Kevin in high regard.  He was an eminent theologian and teacher when I was a Redemptorist seminarian in the mid 1960s.  I readily accepted the authenticity of his presentation which he linked to archaeological, historical and theological research which I had not been aware of before.”

Fr Kevin presented a very credible and inspiring portrayal of Jesus as a human person in his own time and country.  He described how Jesus did not waver from carrying out his mission on earth, how he consistently encouraged the people of his time to accept his values of love and respect in relationships with everyone, including the poor, the sick and the maligned.  Fr Kevin explained why Jesus’ relationships with all types of people challenged the authorities and the religious leaders of his time, so much so that they eventually had him put to death expecting that his teachings would die with him. 

The important thing for us is that the life Jesus lived and taught did not die with him ...

We came away from Fr Kevin’s talks really believing that living life as Jesus taught, with love and respect in our relationship with others, is our mission in life.  Our confusions about rules, mysteries and beliefs were, in a sense, just distractions along the way.

Now when we share our thoughts about the approaching Easter, what happened to Jesus’ body after his death doesn’t seem to be the issue.  The important thing for us is that the life Jesus lived and taught did not die with him as his detractors had hoped.  Jesus’ life, his new way of living, lives on in all those people who have heard about him and try to live by the principles he taught us - love, compassion, tolerance and respect for all people.  This for us is the meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection. 

Imagine what it would do for humanity if not just individuals, but also governments and institutions, embraced the principles of love ... 

Each person is unique.  We each have a unique mission to achieve during our lifetime.  As we work towards this, guided by the way Jesus embraced his mission on earth, we will touch the lives of many other people.  Our mission is to touch them in such a way that they too will be encouraged to follow Jesus’ way of life.

When we die, our resurrection will follow, but not just a physical resurrection as we were taught when we were young.  Our person will live on in some way not yet understood, but we do know that the values we espoused will live on in those we have touched during our mission on earth and guide their lives, just as Jesus’ spirit and values lived on after his death.

Ring the bells and dance with the sun

The world as a whole does not recognise the resurrection as relevant to present times, even though the new way of living with love and respect that Jesus demonstrated has lived on for two thousand years.  In some centuries and cultures the message may have been dimmed, even within the church, but it has survived and it does have an effect, recognised or not.  Think of all the kind people you have ever met, the people who stand up for the rights of the disadvantaged, the people who pray for and strive for peace in the world, and the many other ways that people put Jesus’ teaching into practice.  Imagine what it would do for humanity if not just individuals, but also governments and institutions, embraced the principles of love, compassion, tolerance and respect for all people.  What a resurrection that would be!

Meanwhile we’ll continue to “ring the bells and dance with the sun” as we celebrate the joy of Easter and what the Resurrection means for us today.