It is impossible to describe the joy of Pascha, particularly as I experience it as a priest. This year, I was deeply aware that I stand in a place that was both created for me, and for which I am unworthy. The joy of such a combination is the realization of the Gift. When you are trying to find a gift for someone, the most difficult part, it seems to me, is to think of something that communicates the unique place, the unique value, and the particular affection that you hold. Gifts can be so generic, but no human being is generic. My sense of the Gift is that it is utterly particular and unique. What God gives is never “one size fits all.” Salvation is the healing and fulfillment of a person and cannot be the same from one to another. Although all are formed and shaped “according to the image and likeness of God,” that image and likeness has an infinite variety in its personal expression.
It is in this sense, that Pascha, Christ’s death and resurrection, is the creation and birth of every human being. This is not simply the creation and birth of humanity, but of each truly unique person. Pascha is therefore my story (and yours).
This unique reality that constitutes our true self, is, in its most foundational aspect, a gift. We never “create ourselves” (pace Justice Kennedy). We are not the makers of our own reality. There is such a wonderful liberation in this when we begin to truly understand it. We do not bring ourselves into existence, nor do we form and create our world. Our present reality is not the result of some chain of decisions and consequences. Such naive reductionism (often posited by many religious people) simply fails to adequately describe even the smallest portion of our reality and that which is rightly termed, “the self.”
The modern narrative of the self views human beings as absurdly responsible for their lives. That small fraction of our lives that is affected by our decisions is credited with the creation of the whole. It is a distortion that is useful only in coercing our agreement with and cooperation in the injustice of the present world order.
The truth of our being is that we are an intersection of many things, an almost infinite concatenation. It is far more accurate to describe the “self” as a witness, the subject that bears witness to the confluence of events that is uniquely gifted to us.
To say that “I am unworthy” is to be an accurate witness. Nothing of what I am in this moment, even in this life, is finally of my own making. It cannot be described in terms of worthiness. At its core, the experience of unworthiness is the acknowledgment of the gift, and thus the offering of thanks.
To stand rightly at Pascha, is, finally, to stand at the end of all things, the beginning of all things, and thus at the beginning and end of our lives. It is beholding Christ’s Pascha that allows us to see the gift and to understand that this – this Pascha – is the revelation of our own lives. It is also true that when we see things rightly, the unique witness that is our life, this unique gathering of events, is itself Christ’s Pascha.
St. John Chrysostom says in his great Paschal homily: “Christ is risen and not one dead is left in the grave.” Every life is revealed not only as a life but as a Pascha. “Christ is risen” is the song of our true humanity. To stand at this very moment and confess before God, “I was created precisely for this,” is to stand at Christ’s Pascha.
Glory to God for the Gift.