The Gods Were Shaken: An Easter Reflection on Misheard Words
The Gospel reading for the Easter Vigil, taken from the Gospel of Matthew, describes the momentous event of Christ’s resurrection. We hear of the shaking of the earth, the angels of heaven, the fear of the guards set at His tomb, and His very likeness, truly God incarnate, striking terror in the hearts of the evil ones, and comfort to those who believe.
Last night, the deacon intoned the Gospel shakily, but perhaps providentially. He was supposed to have said the following:
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:4)
But I heard this: “The gods were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.”
Now, I knew that he said guards, but what I had heard, I had heard. And this struck me. Mind you, I was just doing one of my many re-readings of Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, so it was probably because this work was so fresh in my head.
Throughout the work, Chesterton describes the drama of history as the drama of God, Divine Providence leaving its mark and shaping the very course of events. He mentions the dichotomies of the ancient world, that of the demons of the vaults of Carthage or the gods of the hearths of Rome, that of the intellectual philosophers and the popular priests. All have their clashes and their victories, but all bow down before the might of God, come incarnate as Jesus Christ.
Chesterton mentions this drama played out in Christmas first, as Christ comes to bring new life to the world, a world that had grown stale and stagnant as Rome had won her wars and history could progress no further. Philosophers had taken to sophistry instead of sophia, walking and talking in circles as they dictated the same dry phrases of a merely natural world. Nothing new was under the sun, to take a phrase from Ecclesiastes. The demons of Carthage, though, on that Christmas night sought to destroy the Son of God in one last gasp. They devoured the children of Judea, just as they had devoured the children of the Punics centuries earlier.
More importantly however, Chesterton describes the mysteries of Easter, of how the drama of human history, or rather, merely human history was finally played to its end. He writes in the chapter entitled “The Strangest Story in the World”:
It was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. […] The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.
The demons of Carthage had died. The gods of Rome and the old world were gone. In that moment of resurrection, all was changed. No longer could these gods of stone and wood, those whose power consisted only in chance or in the elements, no longer could they be worshiped, for now they knew they could not be true. Whether they were demons or spirits or mere memories, we cannot be sure. But we can be sure that they are not gods.
For on that Easter morning, the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who gave the Old Law to Moses and his people, the God of Israel who gave us the Prophets, showed forth His true glory and His divine purpose, coming forth with an earthquake and lightning, turning men to fear and awe, and giving men true hope and true joy. The old order was cast away. A new creation was revealed and the the Law was fulfilled. Man was saved and now he could truly live and have life in the fullest. The philosopher and the priest could now be one and the same. All the old gods and the old philosophies were gone and done away with, their mere selves merely memories, for the True God and the True Word had revealed Himself in glory.
"The gods were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men."
Happy Easter, everyone.
On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised it was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.