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VOICES - Vol. XX No. 1 - Eastertide 2005
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Truly, truly I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
On Easter Day, during the drive back to St. Louis from a brief visit to my seriously ill father in Kansas, we saw brilliant green fields of wheat that contrasted sharply with the wintry landscape not yet touched by the greening signs of Spring. Like green islands in a sea of gray, the wheat fields glowed with promise in the afternoon sun -- a promise that could be fulfilled only at harvest.
Through the striking image of the buried grain of wheat Jesus addressed His apostles, foretelling His sacrifice: His death, burial, and resurrection. But His words, recorded by John, were not understood by the apostles until later -- after they were fulfilled.
This year, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Good Friday Stations of the Cross, standing in for the ailing Pope John Paul II. In his meditation and prayer on the fourteenth station, Cardinal Ratzinger observed, that if "God's measure is superabundance", then we should consider nothing we can offer too great a gift for Him. The cardinal reminds us of the words of Saint Paul, that God "through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. We are the aroma of Christ". (II Cor 2:14ff) He continued:
At the very moment of His burial, Jesus' words are fulfilled: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit'. Jesus is the grain of wheat which dies. From that lifeless grain of wheat comes forth the great multiplication of bread that will endure until the end of the world.
Jesus is the Bread of Life, which can satisfy superabundantly the hunger of all humanity and provide its deepest nourishment. Through His Cross and Resurrection, the eternal Word of God became flesh and bread for us. The mystery of the Eucharist already shines forth in the burial of Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, in Your burial You have taken on the death of the grain of wheat. You have become the lifeless grain of wheat which produces abundant fruit for every age and for all eternity. From the tomb shines forth in every generation the promise of the grain of wheat, which gives rise to the true manna, the Bread of Life, in which You offer us Your very self.
The eternal Word, through His incarnation and death, has become a Word that is close to us:
You put Yourself into our hands and into our hearts, so that Your word can grow within us and bear fruit. Through the death of the grain of wheat You give us Yourself, so that we too can dare to lose our life in order to find it; so that we too can trust the promise of the grain of wheat.
Help us grow in love and veneration for Your Eucharistic mystery -- to make you, the Bread of Heaven, the source of our life. Help us to become Your 'fragrance', and to make known in this world the mysterious traces of Your life.
Like the grain of wheat, which rises from the earth, putting forth its stalk and then its ear, you could not remain enclosed in the tomb: the tomb is empty because He -- the Father -- 'did not abandon You to the nether world, nor let Your flesh see corruption' (Acts 2:31; Ps 16:10 ). No, You did not see corruption. You have risen, and have made a place for our transfigured flesh in the very heart of God.
Help us rejoice in this hope and bring it joyfully to the world. Help us to become witnesses of Your resurrection.
It is this truth of Christ's death and resurrection -- the actuality of this truth, celebrated every year on Easter, the first Sunday after the first full moon of Spring, and at every Mass throughout the year - that is the ultimate source of all hope, all courage, all strength to meet the winters of our life, to bear the suffering, the loss, we must inevitably encounter. We have this blessed assurance from the Lord's own words to His apostles.
It was with this assurance that Peter proclaimed, in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost, "God declares, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh... And it shall be that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved". (Acts 2:17, 21)
It was with this assurance that Paul taught the Romans, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His... For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died, He died to sin; once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus". (Romans 6:3-5, 9-11)
It is this message of hope that characterized the entire pontificate of Pope John Paul II, who died April 2, within the octave of Easter, on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.
It is because we have been given the Bread of Life through the "grain of wheat", who died to nourish us, that permits us to hope -- and to "spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere", despite all the decadence in the world, all the anguish and sorrow, and all the evil that now casts dark shadows that obscure even the very meaning of human life.
This "superabundant gift" is the source of our confidence to proclaim to the whole world with renewed joy this Easter season and forevermore, Alleluia! Praised be Jesus Christ!
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