Why a song might be better than a sermon for Easter

Photo by Michael Maasen on Unsplash

Sometimes a song says it better, especially if the other option is a sermon. And there is a hymn, written long ago, that captures what we are about on Easter Sunday.

Seven centuries back, we were singing in Latin, but here are the first two stanzas, translated into English. It is a love song, and the loved one is directly addressed:

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O hidden truth, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me.
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed.
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.

We know the song by its Latin title, “Adore Te Devote.” Its author is St. Thomas Aquinas. We think of it as a eucharistic hymn, which is indeed what the saint composed.

Why this hymn on Easter? Because St. Thomas is speaking to a living Christ, who is present upon our altars. What good is the empty tomb, what good is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, if today we do no more than call to mind what happened 2,000 years ago?

What good is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, if today we do no more than call to mind what happened 2,000 years ago?

St. Thomas admits that his glorified, eucharistic Lord is, in a way, hidden. The truth is there and not there, at the same time. Our senses will be deceived by the appearance of bread and wine, which is why Thomas insists that we must let them lie and trust only one of our senses, our hearing. Today, we solemnly proclaim and hear, silently sounding within our hearts, the saving news of the Gospel.

Thomas points out that even when he walked upon the earth, God was not seen by all. There is so very much you cannot see when you lose your sight to sin. On the cross, the crowd could only look upon the martyred man. Yet given a graced sighting, a thief saw his chance and stole heaven.

God only on the Cross lay hid from view,
But here lies hid at once the humanity too.
And I, in both professing my belief,
Make the same prayer as the repentant thief.

It is true that what we see upon the altar is different than what the doubting apostle once saw when Jesus appeared to him on the Sunday following Easter. Yet the mystery of Easter is not finished, is not fulfilled, until it becomes the mystery of the Eucharist, of our Lord present to his people, present to the one who looks upon him with love and feeds upon his flesh.

Thy wounds as Thomas saw, I do not see,
Yet Thee confess my Lord and God to be.
Make me believe Thee ever more and more,
In Thee my hope, in Thee my love to store.
O thou Memorial of Our Lord’s own dying!
O Bread that living art and vivifying!
Make ever Thou my soul on Thee to live
Ever a taste of Heavenly sweetness give.

Easter is what Christ did more than 2,000 years ago. The eschaton, the end time is what as yet we do not know. Eucharist is what Christ does now; Eucharist is who Christ is now. Christ gives us holy communion with himself by summoning us into the holy communion, the church he called into existence by his pascal gift of self.

Only ardent faith can hear the truth. Human knowledge is pursued for power. Divine knowledge is the revelation of love.

Perhaps if one thinks of Easter and its Christ as something long past or far in the future, one does not feel the urgency to come to Eucharist each week. But if one knows that the birth, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ break through time, that today Christ himself descends upon our altars, then one hungers for the gift of God’s own self, which he offers.

O loving Pelican! O Jesus, Lord!
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood,
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Is ransom for a world’s entire guilt.
Jesus, whom for the present veil’d I see,
What I so thirst for when will’t be granted me?
That I may see Thy countenance unfolding,
And may be blest Thy glory in beholding.
Amen.

Five centuries ago, Goethe fashioned the first truly modern man in the person of Faust, who wants nothing of divine wisdom, who desires knowledge only as a path to power. Faust first spoke for the modern age when he said of the Christian faith and its Easter, “The tidings I surely hear, it is faith alone that I miss.”

 

Centuries earlier, St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that only loving, ardent faith can hear the truth. Human knowledge is pursued for power. Divine knowledge is the revelation of love, and it can only be recognized by our own act of love. Adoro te devote. I devoutly adore you.

Thy wounds as Thomas saw, I do not see,
Yet Thee confess my Lord and God to be.
Make me believe Thee ever more and more,
In Thee my hope, in Thee my love to store.

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Colossians 3:1-4 John 20:1-9

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Frank Bergen
4 months ago

Goethe five centuries ago? My source (Google) has him living from 1749 to 1832.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
3 months 3 weeks ago

Sermon is a monologue. In an era of dialogue, other ways need to be creatively imagined and discovered. Why not?

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