Love Never Fails

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

Writing a column entitled “Word Made Flesh,” it’s not hard to find something to write about for the April edition:

Holy Week, the Triduum, Easter itself and the richness of the Gospels therein. Everywhere we look in this month’s liturgical calendar, there it is: the Word, and His flesh, and what happened to His flesh (and ours) once the Word has entered it.

This year as I pondered all this richness of expression, I was drawn to a Gospel that doesn’t actually come up this year in the main Paschal liturgies, but nonetheless is a beloved feature of this feast, one referred to frequently in the hymns and iconography of Easter.

It is the visit to the tomb of the ointment bearing women (Mark 16:1-7) and their encounter with the angel of the Resurrection there. You seek Jesus … he is not here. A Gospel story, not of encounter with the Risen Lord, but of missing him. Not his living presence casting out all shadows, sorrow, and fear, but his absence calling us into mystery and faith.

These women, though—they tug at our heart strings, don’t they? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome—these were the women who followed after Jesus in his life on earth, took care of him and the apostles, served them all in a hundred different ways big and small, as women are so wont to do. And loved him, tenderly, deeply, truly.

So of course their hearts are utterly broken and crushed as they make their way to the tomb, there to perform the one last act of love and service available to them—the same last act it is for all of us, for those we love. At the end the final loving act is to weep, to care for their lifeless bodies and prepare them for burial, and to bury them.

And that is the end, the bitter sorrowing end to all human loves. The inevitability and finality of death and the cruel sundering of flesh from flesh, of heart from heart, casts its tragic shadow over all of us. The fear of it is one of the great drivers of all human history and its sad defeats.

The ointment-bearing women, then, stand for all of us as we face these realities of death and grief. All we can do, in the end, is weep and bury, bury and weep, and await our own turn to be wept over. That’s the human story.

Or so it was. Of course, it all changed, didn’t it, when the Word made flesh entered all these mysteries and made them his very own. The stone rolled back, the empty tomb, the mysterious angel, the words that both promise and bewilder. He is not here… Go!

For the first time in human history, death is not the end of the story, but the start of a new and glorious story. First for Jesus, then for us—the whole situation has changed at its very heart. Death is still death, but it just doesn’t have that sting it used to have (cf 1 Cor 15:55).

So what about these ointments, though? The women came to the tomb to do that one last act of love, that one last act of service, that one final work of mercy, anointing the dead body of their beloved.

They could not know or understand quite yet, although they certainly would in time, that the body of their beloved Jesus would in a manner wholly divine and mystical become the very body of all humanity, that the presence and life of Christ would pass into the presence and life of all the world’s people, and in a very particular way the poor, the afflicted, the suffering (cf Matt 25).

The ointments meant for his burial are transformed into bread and drink for the hungry, clothing for the naked, medicine for the sick, and so on—all the manifold ways the Lord meets us on the road of the world and receives our love for him poured out in our love for one another.

And because the Lord is a living Lord, a Lord who lives forever and whose mysterious presence is poured out into the whole of humanity and indeed the whole cosmos, there is no and never can be “the one last act of love.”

Jesus is alive, in his poor and in all humanity whom he loves so well, and so there will never be an end to love poured out, to the work and the joy of loving Christ by loving one another. Love never fails (1 Cor 12).

And in that pouring out and our own receiving of the ointments poured out upon us by other loving souls, the victory of Christ over death becomes our victory.

And the sad story of humanity ending in death is transformed, more and more and more, into the glad story of eternal life and love lived in its perfection in the kingdom of heaven forever and imperfectly here and now in our humble efforts to care for one another.

All of which is what we mean, essentially, when we say at this time of year “Christ is Risen! Truly, He is risen! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Which greeting I say to all of you as I conclude this Restoration article. Happy Easter.