To this day, I remain struck by the ending of Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s classic, The Polar Express, when Sarah, the narrator’s sister, finds one last gift under the tree and—lo and behold—it is the lost bell from Santa’s sleigh! It is not so much the finding of the bell but the reaction it elicits that is moving: when the children shake the bell, their parents shrug, “that’s too bad.” “It’s broken,” they say, for they hear not its ring, which makes “the most beautiful sound my sister and I had ever heard.”
In the final words of the story, the narrator reflects:
At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.
At some level, every Christian knows the unease that underlies the concluding reflection of Van Allsburg’s narrator, and particularly at Easter. We exult in the glory of Christ’s Resurrection—in the unfathomable love that his saving work manifests to mankind—and yet, looking out at the world, we see so many who seem to offer but a deaf shrug to the Good News heralded by the bells at the Easter Vigil Gloria. Most heart-wrenching, of course, are those closest to us—childhood and college friends or our own parents, siblings, children, relatives, or spouse—for whom, “as years passed,” the sweet sound of the Shepherd’s voice has fallen silent. Raised Catholic or perhaps practicing on their own for some time, they have roamed astray and now languish in spiritual tepidity. After all, the secular culture is so subtly seductive; it is just too easy to drift into the undertow and slip out to sea.
One might even feel an urge to ponder, “Am I the only one who truly believes?”
The majesty and joy of the Easter season amount to a powerful rebuttal against both the pride and despair that sneakily motivate such a question. Indeed, year after year, we are afforded fifty prayerful days to tent outside the empty tomb and peel back, as if from an onion, the endless layers of the mystery that is our redemption from sin and death. Christ, thanks be to God, is not Santa Claus. He is real, and he is risen. The stone was rolled away; the tomb was empty; the head cloth was wrapped up and put aside; the guards were bribed; and Christ Himself appeared multiple times to the Eleven, to the men on the Road to Emmaus, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, as well as to five hundred others (1 Cor 15:6). And he likewise did so many other things that, were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).
Moreover, the heroic stories that we read from the Acts of the Apostles bring to life the supernatural zeal that had inflamed the hearts of the Eleven and Paul and the thousands whom they shamelessly encouraged to join the Way. All of this is geared toward sharpening our own faith in and love for the Risen Christ, lest we succumb to either arrogance or torpor amidst our unbelieving world. For we, too, in this very moment, are called by the grace of that blazing Spirit to go forth with courage, making known that “most beautiful sound” we have ever heard—the Resurrection song—to all nations (Matt 28:19). They are thirsting for it.
Photo by nonmisvegliate