Last night at the Easter Vigil, we had three men join the Catholic Church in our parish. Why would anyone WANT to join a church nowadays? I have a story which might shed some light on that.
Andre was a mountain climber. He was in a group of climbers who every summer would head to Colorado and climb the 14-ers… which are the 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. All year long, the group would get together every Sunday to plan their trips, to hike together, and to push each other to maintain their physical fitness. The older, experienced hikers would show them the tricks of the trade…like how to safely cross a glacier by tying a rope to everyone in the group. That way if one person falls, the group can pull them back to safety.
After completing the Colorado 14ers, they set their sights on Mt McKinley – otherwise known as Denali – the highest peak on the continent at over 20,000 feet.
The second day of their expedition on Denali, an unexpected blizzard kicked up and they had to spend most of a day hunkered down in their tents. One of the older guys in the group was suffering from altitude sickness, so the group decided to wait 24 hours to continue. Andre was getting really impatient with the delay… thinking he’d be better off climbing by himself. He told the group that he was pushing on ahead without them. They tried to stop him – pointing out how dangerous the slope was and how he’d never climbed that high before. Andre wouldn’t listen – he’d made up his mind. He could do this on his own. He would show them!
That next morning, Andre was on the trail even before the sun came up. It was a beautiful morning for hiking – one of only a handful of days with clear skies that Denali ever saw. The stars were so bright he felt like he could reach out and touch them. He pushed on all day without incident – he was tired, but he took great pride in having been able to get so far by himself. One more day and he would make it to the top – alone – He didn’t need the group.
The next day, clouds settled back over the mountain so that at times you couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of you. That slowed Andre down – but He pushed on… Late in the day, he calculated he was almost there, but as quickly as daylight was fading, he might not make it to the peak before dark. Andre wouldn’t give up… he had to cross one glacier near the top of the mountain. It was a particularly dangerous spot which the experienced climbers had warned about. The crossing was narrow, and it was like a hundred foot drop on one side and you don’t even want to guess how far down the other side was. With barely any light left in the sky and a thick fog enveloping him, Andre tied a rope to a rock as a safety precaution and stepped out onto the glacier. Just then, a gust of wind over 50 mph knocked him off balance and his feet slid out from under him. He went sliding down the glacier – picking up speed – his life flashing before his eyes – seeing every good and bad thing he’d ever done in his life – thinking of the group of climbers he’d left down the mountain two days ago – thinking of his family whom he’d never see again. After what seemed like a lifetime of falling, he slid off of a cliff and bracing himself for impact, he thought – this is it - but suddenly he felt the rope go tight and he jerked to a stop . After catching his breath and realizing he was still alive, his mind raced – looking for options. It was so dark and foggy, he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face… there was nothing to grab onto – just air all the way around him.
He thought…If I’d stayed with the group, they could simply have helped me back up. In fact, if I’d been tied to the group, I wouldn’t have slid down 100 feet. Now here he was, hanging off a cliff in the dark – and no way to get back up. He had no choice but to cry out “God, Help Me!”. He was surprised when a voice came back – “what do you want me to do for you?” “Save Me, God!” “Do you really believe I CAN save you?” Andre quickly answered – “Yes – I really DO believe you can save me!” Then the voice said – “Cut the rope”.
Andre thought for a moment and said, “You mean THIS ROPE!? That’s CRAZY – this rope is the only thing keeping me from falling.” Cut the Rope! “But - It’s all I have to hold onto!!!” He decided to just hang on and hope a better option would appear when the sun came up.
The next day, the rest of the group came to the base of the glacier where Andre had fallen and they could see a rope hanging off the bottom. They hurried out to the edge of the glacier and found Andre still hanging onto the rope – frozen to death – just 3 feet above the ground.
What are you and I hanging onto? What is it that we simply cannot let go of that is keeping us from falling into the hands of God?
The lesson of this Easter season has two bookends: the cross and the empty grave – the cross teaches us that the path to the kingdom of God is to completely let go of everything in this life. It’s going to feel like we’re losing, we will FEEL like we’re falling! To the rest of the world, the cross LOOKS like utter failure.
But without Good Friday, there could be no Easter. Without giving up everything; without letting go even of his earthly life, Jesus could not have risen from the dead. Without the Crucifixion of Friday, the Empty Tomb of Easter would be meaningless. An empty tomb is only important if there used to be a body in there. Why is the empty tomb important? Without the empty tomb, the crucifixion would have been just a shameful ending of another false prophet.
This path of life you and I are on is a dangerous one – and we usually can’t see where we’re going. That’s why we travel as a group – tied to each other – as companions on the journey….learning from scriptures and breaking bread together. We encourage each other – we push each other to maintain our spiritual fitness - Sometimes we are there to pull each other back from the edge of the cliff –
…and sometimes we’re there to simply tell each other to ‘Cut the rope’.