“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” — John 12:23
As a child I tended to take many things quite literally. I am surely not the only child who thought it grotesque to tell an actor to break a leg before they went on stage, or to be deeply confused when someone informed me their relative had kicked the bucket or bought the farm. So when Easter Seals first caught my attention in 1967, I can tell you I was mightily disappointed that no semi-aquatic mammals were part of that funding campaign for disabled kids. They were, however, one of the charities that always reminded me of Easter.
I think it’s equally true to say that as a child Easter similarly challenged me. Firstly, the church was transformed for this day, not just by the unveiling of statues that had stood beneath rich purple coverings, but also because tons of people I never saw at mass suddenly showed up. This told me that something monumental was taking place, and that I should look at this event as particularly important. But I didn’t quite get it.
As I grew older, however, I began to understand humility in a way that is profoundly connected to the life and death of Jesus, and which transforms this story of salvation into a language that made a great deal of sense to me as a human being encountering the world. It is now a comic cliché to point out how the word “literally” is misused. I could literally eat a horse! But here is a moment in history where an act of leadership and sacrifice literally transforms our understanding of love.
The gift of Jesus is not only his teaching, but also his ultimate sacrifice. In his day, the thought of a messiah humbling himself to the point of persecution and humiliation was incomprehensible to many. But it is precisely this reversal of the paradigm of power that makes God’s gift so overwhelming. And it becomes an example to all of us to put charity ahead of personal interests for the sake of true salvation. Easter is the moment when the world remembers this ultimate rebirth. That, surely, is something we can take literally.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.