October 15, 2005 was one of the worst days of my life.1 If you’re a Notre Dame fan, you know exactly what I mean. Three years in a row we’d lost to USC2 by 31 points. 31 points each time–how humiliating. But in 2005, after three pathetic years, it was over. We came out in green3 and played our guts out and as time expired, we were in the lead!
My friends, I was literally in the process of rushing the field when the announcers shouted that if we didn’t return to the stands, Notre Dame would be penalized. “Penalized?” I crowed. “How are you going to penalize us? WE WON!!”
No, as it turns out. We hadn’t. Matt “Ballroom Dancing” Leinart had fumbled the ball out of bounds, stopping the clock with seven seconds left.4 USC would get one more play. And with that play, the game. Reggie Bush shoved Leinart into the endzone5 for the win. And there we were, having climbed back into the stands, shocked and miserable.
My roommate was so upset that she just went to bed. At 7pm on a Saturday night. She said she didn’t want to be conscious any more.
It was the only time in my life I’ve ever wanted to drown my sorrows.6
For weeks, every person I met who heard I went to Notre Dame responded, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I’m not even kidding.
I know it’s pathetic and that football shouldn’t affect me that much, but Bush Push 2005 drove me to despair. And so I think I know a little bit what the Apostles were feeling.
They thought they had this one. On Palm Sunday, Jesus walked into the city amid shouts of Hosanna and they thought that after years of eating leftover loaves and fish and sleeping in a leaky boat they had finally arrived. They were so ready for their victory, so ready for Jesus to take control.
And then suddenly the Hosannas were replaced by angry cries of “Crucify him!” and he was snatched from their midst and stripped and beaten and before they knew it, he was lying in a tomb and what was left for them? That Holy Saturday, there was a feeling that nothing would ever be good again. That no matter what happened, nothing would ever fill the ache of emptiness that Friday had left in their hearts. Maybe they lost themselves in wine or sleep or anything to dull the pain.
It’s like we were standing in that stadium, stunned and defeated and empty, and the refs called out “Please reset the game clock” one more time. It’s like we looked out onto the field and it wasn’t just Brady and Samardzija and Zbikowski. It was all 7 ND Heisman winners. It was all 11 National Championship teams. It was Rudy and the Gipper and the 4 Horsemen and every man ever to put on blue and gold. It’s like they lined up on one side of the line of scrimmage and looked across at Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, alone and shaking in mesh shorts and flip flops. And then the whistle blew and they pounded it in over and over again. It’s not just like we won that game but ran up the score on every game, erased every embarrassing loss. It’s like eternal victory was snatched from the jaws of crushing defeat and nothing would ever hurt that way again.
Call me strange, but that’s how I see Easter. It’s not just glowing Jesus walking out of a tomb, it’s Rambo Jesus ripping the gates off of hell. It’s demons cowering in the corner as Adam bows before his son and savior. It’s earthquakes and the dead walking out of their tombs and all creation turned on its head.
Easter isn’t bunnies and lilies and butterflies–it’s a wild victory where there was no hope. It’s absolute power in the hands of a God who went to hell and back for you. It’s unending joy wrested from the bitter grasp of him who came to kill, steal and destroy.
That’s what we celebrate today, friends, and for the next 50 days: a love story that puts all romance to shame, the story of a man who gladly gave his life for his beloved and came back for her all the same. It’s an adventure so fantastic that you’d never believe it if it weren’t so clearly true. It’s drama that rips your heart out and somehow restores it new and whole like never before. It’s passion so great it takes your breath away.
When I meditate on the emptiness of Holy Saturday, the pain feels familiar. It feels like October 15, 2005 and it feels like every day of my life before I knew the Lord. But now I know what happens on the other side. Now I know that the darkness serves to amplify the light. Now I know the the emptiness and the futility are an illusion, that the only battle that matters has already been won and all I have to do is share in the spoils.
There is nothing sweet about this story, nothing nice, nothing dull. This Easter, forget everything you know about the Resurrection and read the story with fresh eyes. Read the anguish of Friday and the desolation of Saturday but don’t stop there. Read the confusion of Sunday morning, the urgency of Mary’s sprint to the upper room, of Peter and John’s sprint back. Read the infinite tenderness of the word “Mary,” the shock of his appearance in the upper room, the shame elicited by, “Simon, do you love me?” But above all, keep reading. Read the power of Peter’s Pentecost message that brought 3,000 more into the fold. Read the confidence of “In the name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk” and the jubilation of the walking and leaping and praising God. Read the fearlessness of the cowardly apostles and the abandon of the community that held everything in common.
Then tell me: does your life shine with Easter joy? Do you radiate triumph like you’ve just witnessed a come-from-behind victory? Do you live in a hope that is stronger than your circumstances, a peace that passes understanding? Do you stare into the eyes of defeat and taunt with St. Paul, “Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting??” We are an Easter people, my friends, and alleluia is our song. How is your life going to witness to that truth this Easter season?
- It seems the Lord doesn’t think much of me if this is the height of the suffering I’ve endured. [↩]
- Some Notre Dame students call USC the University of Spoiled Children. I find this terribly ironic. [↩]
- Never a good idea. [↩]
- Bear with me, non-football fans. I’m going somewhere with this. [↩]
- Which is illegal, but anyone would do the same thing. [↩]
- I didn’t. I went to the library to read a commentary on the Code of Canon Law instead. Shut up. [↩]