December 4, 2020

Thomas Merton: Living in the Freedom of Easter


These words from Trappist monk Thomas Merton about Easter could not have been said better by any Lutheran or Protestant. He reminds us that Easter is not just about Jesus rising from the dead, defeating death. It is about our death and resurrection as well. In particular, Merton has us meditate on Paul’s teaching that we have died to the Law and are now free to live as saved persons in newness of life by the Spirit.

I encourage you to read the entire chapter in Thomas Merton’s book on the liturgical year: Seasons of Celebration.

Have a blessed Easter!

13861655103_50a90e9630_zLent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the pedagogue, who convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own nothingness. Hence it disquiets and sobers us, awakening in us perhaps some sense of that existential “dread” of the creature whose freedom suspends him over an abyss which may be an infinite meaninglessness, an unbounded despair. This is the fruit of that Law which judges our freedom together with its powerlessness to impose full meaning on our lives merely by conforming to a moral code. Is there nothing more than this?

But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning!

Easter is the hour of our own deliverance— from what? Precisely from Lent and from its hard Law which accuses and judges our infirmity. We are no longer under the Law. We are delivered from the harsh judgment! Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendor of the Easter mystery— here is the “grace” of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!

Death exercises a twofold power in our lives: it holds us by sin, and it holds us by the Law. To die to death and live a new life in Christ we must die not only to sin but also to the Law.

Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so for twenty centuries. We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from “the wheel of birth and death” by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques. These are means devised by men to enable them to liberate and justify themselves. All the other religions impose upon man rigid and complicated laws, subject him more or less completely to prescribed exterior forms, or to what St Paul calls “elementary notions.”

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . . In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5: 4,6).

. . . This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and in the world to come.

This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope above the bitter struggle that is the lot of man caught between the flesh and the Law, this is the new canticle in which we join with the blessed angels and the saints in praising God.

God who is rich in mercy, was moved by the intense love with which he loved us, and when we were dead by reason of our transgressions, he made us live with the life of Christ . . . Together with Christ Jesus and in him he raised us up and enthroned us in the heavenly realm . . . It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, it is not the result of anything you did, so that no one has any grounds for boasting. (Eph. 2: 4– 9)

Let us not then darken the joy of Christ’s victory by remaining in captivity and in darkness, but let us declare His power, by living as free men who have been called by Him out of darkness into his admirable light.

Seasons of Celebration
Merton, Thomas


  1. Christiane says

    It takes a great spiritual strength to say ‘Yes’ to the Risen Lord, and that strength comes not from within our earthly physical selves, but flows to us from the God whose image we bear.
    The power of discouragement and despair become much lessened in a world where the dead return to life again.

    The ancient Scripture that calls us to say ‘YES’ to life, so that we may live,
    is a scripture that reaches far into the future, and into our own world where we have Life Himself to say ‘YES’ to;
    and we say ‘YES’ at every moment we turn in humility toward His light as we turn away from the darkness.

    Saying ‘YES’ to Christ is on-going . . . that is what many sometimes forget, but that is what makes our journey both difficult and also possible.

  2. Amen!

    We have been put to death (the old sinful self)…in Baptism! (Romans 6)

    We truly ARE…free in Christ!

    Happy Easter, all!

  3. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

  4. Drena (@vadess40) says

    Amen! We are indeed free, yet how easy it is for us to retreat back into captivity and do things via human law… although there is a place for things like ritual and tradition, they shouldn’t be a means to earn God’s favor but a celebration of the freedom and favor we already have from God in Christ.

  5. I used to belong to a church that did not follow lent or celebrate Easter because ‘we remember Jesus every day, not just special days’ but now I think this ignores a lot about human nature. Good quote by Thomas Merton.

    Alleluia, we are free!

  6. br. thomas says

    A blessed Easter to all. Very rich words from Thomas Merton to ponder. I was wondering about this, though:

    “These words from Trappist monk Thomas Merton about Easter could not have been said better by any Lutheran or Protestant.”

    This seems a bit odd to me: are Lutherans not Protestant? Or are they more special in some way that they need to be set apart from the other denominations in that stream of faith communities?

    • Lutherans are technically Protestants but are distinguished from later historical expressions that we call Protestants such as Methodists, Presbyterians , etc. I actually prefer to think of Lutherans as Catholic — reformed Catholics.

  7. A happy and blessed Easter to everyone.

    Take it easy on the chocolate 🙂 and may we all be mindful of the graces received as we enter into Eastertide and the anticipation of Pentecost.

    • I think Martha will appreciate this, which came from my wife’s Belfast part of the family…

      We all know that Jewish moms can cure anything with chicken soup–Jewish penicillin.

      Q. What is Irish penicillin?
      A. Hot tea.

      Q. What is Irish cocaine?

      Ergo, chocolate Easter bunnies were invented by the Irish.

      • Christiane says

        all our chocolate bunnies are missing their ears today . . . some are missing their heads . . . the large white chocolate rabbit has disappeared altogether . . .

  8. I was just mulling this freedom thing over earlier today. This reading expresses what I was trying to muddle through

  9. Good Friday is over. Holy Saturday is over. Holy Week is over. The Easter Vigil is over. The two Easter Festival Holy Communions are over.

    My wife and I have returned home, she more exhausted than me from the long season, long week, long day, long lifetime. Many others will be spending the rest of the day with children, extended family, close friends, but not us: these networks, these connections, do not exist in our life. We will be alone, together, for the rest of Easter Sunday.

    Now she is asleep in bed, taking a nap, trying to recover some strength to face the busy week she still has ahead of her. And here I am, again feeling the familiar emptiness that has been my companion throughout life, struggling with the doubt that continues to dog me no matter how energetically I may have sung today’s Easter hymns and anthems, no matter how earnestly I lifted my “Alleluias,” and wondering if this half-light will really one day illumine our way to the New Jerusalem, the City God, where our tears will all be wiped away, and we will live joyfully in the presence of the Lamb forever.

    Alleluia. Christ is risen.
    He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

    • Felt a bit of emptiness myself earlier while listening to an old song by Bruce Cockburn called No Footprints. It brought me back to 1980. It was a sweet empty for me though as it was a reminiscence.

      “Through these channels, words, I want to touch you
      Touch you deep down where you live. Not for power but because I love you.
      So love The Lord and He will love me too and we will go away and I’ll be right there with you
      And leaving no footprints when we go, only where we’ve been a faint and fading glow….”

      Check it out on YouTube if you’re in the mood. It’s relaxing.

    • Last night’s Vigil felt long.

      “The older we get the harder it is to fill our hearts with wonder. Only God is large enough to do that.”

    • Christiane says

      Hi Robert F.
      I thought a long time about what you wrote, and I thought this qote from Tolkien might help a bit:

      “” Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” (LOTR)

      I expect that ANY holiday brings on sadness for many, many people . . . some grieving, some depression experienced . . . it is a very human reaction for so many. But THIS holiday by its very contrast to our present realities will magnify the difficulties to us more than usual . . . and this can be painful. On the other hand, the hope we are offered is not anchored in our present difficulties, or in our grief, or our depression, or loneliness of spirit. We remember that He who fully experienced the pain, suffering, and the alone-ness, of our human condition; it is He Who will wipe away our tears in the world to come.