“The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun:
This is the hymn that shouts Easter to me, that brings back all the Easter mornings my husband and kids and I would squeeze ourselves into the high-gloss shellacked pew right behind the ever expanding Thomas family at Trinity Episcopal Church, located at the foot of the Great Blue Hill.
How many Easter mornings did I sing this hymn while watching the Thomas family grow? And when the Thomases turned around, did they notice our family growing, too, from one little boy who toddled up to the altar in the middle of the service one Easter because that’s where his grandmother was, in the choir singing, to a few years later a baby girl beside him, and then a few years after that another baby girl?
The meaning of “the strife is over” was so simple to me back then: We had survived another winter and our reward was another spring. This was my idea of eternal life.
In the Roman Catholic church, in which I was raised, we never sang hymns, even on Easter. Mostly we chanted, “Tantum ergo Sacramentum” and “O salutaris Hostia,” and “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” (“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Everything was always our fault.) We chanted, not in English but in Latin, because Latin was the language God spoke. That’s what I told my best friend Rosemary, who was Baptist and who went on to inform me that the Tower of Babel was proof that God spoke all languages, not just Latin. (Rosemary, no surprise, grew up to be a lawyer.)
There would be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. That’s what the priests said when they turned from the altar and God to speak to us from the pulpit in English. That’s what the nuns said too, that suffering was necessary for redemption. They told us stories of Father Damien,who sacrificed himself to help the lepers, and Dr. Tom Dooley, who was working ceaselessly and selflessly to save lives and thwart Communism. They told us every day how Jesus had suffered and died for us. And, lest we forget, there were pictures of Jesus being whipped and Jesus being tortured with his crown of thorns plus carvings of Jesus on a wooden cross on every wall.
I grew up believing that just as a good roux is essential to cooking, suffering is essential to salvation, And just as it takes time to make a good roux, it takes suffering to be redeemed. Jesus needed to suffer, we all need to suffer. That’s what the priests meant when they said, “There would be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday”.
This year we have all suffered. But now? “The strife is o’er, the battle done.”
But is it?
We live in a world where a tree can fall in a March windstorm and take the life of a baby boy while he is being held in his father’s arms.
We live in a world where there are wildfires and earthquakes and tsunamis, disease and disasters, heart attacks, cancer, and syndromes we don’t even know about until someone we are close to is diagnosed. We live in a world where COVID-19 has killed nearly 3 million of us in the past year.
But worse? We live in a world where when nature isn’t after us, our fellow man is. It didn’t take even half of the United States being vaccinated before mass shootings started up again.
As a child surrounded by crucifixes, I was taught that human beings had dominion over animals because we are better than animals, and that what makes us better is that we have intelligence.
This idea of better and of better being linked to intelligence isn’t just misinformation. It’s harmful misinformation. “Love one another,” Jesus said. And said. And said. And said. As if he could see the future.
He didn’t say, love one another except for people who aren’t as intelligent, except for people who don’t look like you, or talk like you, or think like you, or act like you. Except for the people you don’t like. It was love one another. No exceptions.
It seems we have done everything but. Christians have fought wars for Christ. Killed for Christ. Died for Christ. Christians have built churches, cathedrals, basilicas, statues, gone on missions, prayed, sacrificed, given up their freedom for Christ. Christians, even now, risk COVID-19 for Christ.
But love one another? Why is this so hard?
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. Read more at beverlybeckham.com.
Beverly Beckham will give a free Zoom talk at 2 p.m. on April 25. The program is presented by the Friends of the Needham Public Library. Register by visiting tinyurl.com/5a4r7v2s, and a link to the Zoom presentation will be sent two days before the program.