On Easter, celebrating service and love

Javier Santa Maria carries the cross while portraying Jesus during the Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Bensalem.

"Hate Has No Home Here" signs speak from many a front lawn that I pass on my walk to work into Narberth. An earnest pair of young adults can sometimes be found on the town's main street encouraging passersby to join them in their group effort to stop hate.

What's old - ancient, really - is new!

Within easy walking distance, one finds three neighborhood places where people have been inspired to practice love over hate less conspicuously for 95 to 125 years. Each of them - St. Margaret of Antioch parish, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and Narberth Presbyterian Church - is rooted in the teachings of a man who rocked the status quo more than two millennia ago, someone who sacrificed his life in doing so.

Jesus Christ's death was hideous. He was battered, crowned with thorns, stripped, and hammered with nails before being hung like a criminal on a cross. Various authorities found it offensive that Jesus said "I am," as in "I am" the Son of God here to do the will of the Father.

Never mind that Christianity's founder miraculously healed lepers and a blind man, brought two children and Lazarus back from the dead, and more, all while preaching love of God and neighbor. Nor did it matter that Jesus lived as an antidote to the blatant hatred of his day by defending various underdogs, like lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors.

Christ personified love during his life, his persecution, and as he took his last breath.

That's why Easter, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, is such a joyful occasion for Christians, including Catholics like me. We believe that Jesus' death on the cross was the ultimate act of love because it opened the door to eternal salvation for us. Christ sacrificed his life and rose from the dead so that we might join him in the hereafter.

One finds great comfort in this belief, especially when a loved one dies.

Belief in a perfect next life also gives us strength to get through this imperfect one.

Life here has its challenges, personal and otherwise. Our misfortunes - illness, marriage and family break-ups, job loss, addictions - have potential to be overwhelming. Social unrest, violence, and total disregard for human life, nationally and internationally, have even a news junkie like me wanting to avoid reading a newspaper or watching news on TV.

Christ showed us how to bear life's burdens and rise above them.

Still, our belief in a better life to come is not an invitation to live passively here on Earth. On the contrary, we're encouraged to selflessly serve others near and far, as Jesus did.

Our churches burst with opportunities to do just that.

St. Margaret Church members collect food for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's 40 food cupboards monthly. During Lent, a time of sacrificial giving before Easter, parishioners collected clothing for women soon to be freed from prison and underwear for homeless men at St. John's Hospice in Center City. They also made donations to the Little Sisters of the Poor for care of the elderly; Amigos de Jesus, which serves abandoned and impoverished Honduran children; and Catholic Relief Services' Operation Rice Bowl, which feeds the hungry worldwide. Other collections for more than a few charitable causes are taken throughout the year.

The people of Holy Trinity not only supply Narberth Community Food Bank with nonperishables; they donate more than a dozen types of fresh produce that they grow in their "Giving Garden" on the church's front lawn. Holy Trinity's produce is also sent to its "sister church," Grace Lutheran Church in Philly's Mantua neighborhood. Holy Trinity and Grace Lutheran members come together annually to package more than 20,000 meals for the needy. Throughout the year, they also provide blankets for refugees and victims of disaster.

Members of Narberth Presbyterian Church serve the needs of others in various ways. Twenty percent of the overall church budget is given to aid 38 causes the church supports. Plus, members of all ages support these causes through personal involvement in Philadelphia, throughout the United States, and around the world. Those causes include Gifts of Hope, the Philadelphia Project for home repairs, Quilts for Comfort for hospitalized children, Cornerstone Christian Academy in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Service to the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity, Narberth Food Pantry, Amnion Crisis Pregnancy Center, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Anti-Human Trafficking. Narberth Presbyterian's music ministry also performs benefit concerts.

That's a lot of love emanating from three houses of worship in one little borough. Such faith-based acts often generate small resurrections of sorts here on Earth for both the receiver and the giver. These small resurrections in the here and now give us hope.

That optimism magnifies as Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection on Easter. For Easter promises new life after death in the only place conceivable where hate truly has no home.

Marybeth Hagan is a writer in Merion Station.
mbthagan@gmail.com