Cole Porter’s 1935 Broadway musical “Anything Goes” featured a snappy number entitled, “You’re the Top!” A suitor compares his beloved to all the celebrated aspects of 1930 society. In praise of his darling, the crooner signs, “You’re the Coliseum! You’re the Louvre Museum! You’re the Tower of Pisa! You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa! You’re Mahatma Gandhi! You’re Napoleon Brandy!” and on and on through many superlatives, most of which remain celebrated items even today. A few of Porter’s 1935 remarkables however seem dated today. He cites “cellophane” and “Pepsodent” as flattering labels, hardly references of praise today. More than a couple of his laudatory references are today rather obscure. An “Arrow collar” signified a collar already attached to a shirt, a convenience that is totally routine today (unless you’re a priest). And probably most obscure was Porter’s reference to “a Coolidge dollar.” U.S. paper money from 1861-1929 was actually 50% larger than today’s currency. To accommodate such legal tender, wallets were folded in thirds, rather than in half as today. President Calvin Coolidge’s administration (1923-29) initiated this sensible alteration.
Much more commendable and solemn attempts to heap praise on a worthy subject are the praises directed toward Jesus Christ in both the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah praised the expected Messiah (9:6) with words that Handel would later set to splendid music: “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” St. Luke would also pick up this laudatory tone (2:32): “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” St. Paul of course would not be outdone (Phil.2:10-11) in his praise of the Master: “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
But certainly on this Easter day the sevenfold accolades from Jesus’ own lips, happily recalled by St. John, are a worthy tribute to the Risen Messiah. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus announces in chapter 6, pledging to be the spiritual and sacramental nourishment of his followers through the ages. “I am the light of the world,” these words in chapter 8 vow to dispel the darkness of sin and the gloom of error. A very protective Messiah announces in chapter 10, “I am the gate for the sheep,” tenderly promising to shield his flock from all predators. Again in chapter 10, Jesus famously attests, “I am the good shepherd,” pledging to be an earnest pastor committed to caring and watching over those in his charge. Most significant at this holy season is Christ’s declaration in chapter 11: “I am the resurrection and the life,” assuring all that death is not the final act for those born again in Christ. During the Last Supper, in chapter 14, Jesus reminds St. Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and Christ is indeed the sure path, the accurate guide, the vital energy that will ensure entrance into eternity. Again, with Eucharistic overtones, Jesus announces in chapter 15 at the Last Supper, “I am the true vine,” promising that Christ’s Risen life will flow in and through every believer, ensuring that the faithful will certainly bear fruit that will honor the Father.
The accolades that pay worthy tribute to Jesus Christ on this Easter Sunday become all the more powerful and celebratory when one considers the miserable situation of the Savior on Good Friday. Other phrases of Cole Porter from the same tune might easily be placed on Jesus’ crucified lips: “I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop. I’m a toy balloon that’s fated soon to pop!” Yes, it did indeed seem that all was lost on Golgotha’s slope. But for Christ and indeed for the authentic believer, Calvary’s bloody hilltop was just as much a sign of victory as Easter’s flowered garden. Jesus was not a “flop” atop the Cross; indeed he was a vanquisher and a victor. The crucified Christ vividly defeated sin by holding strong to his Father’s mysterious will. The dying Christ was a determined Christ; he would not falter in the face of any challenge. The praises rightly heaped on the Risen Christ should not be denied to the Crucified Christ.
“In this sign, you will conquer!” The strengthening words later uttered to Emperor Constantine are still true for all believers. Heroically embracing the Cross is the first step in enjoying the fruits of the Resurrection. The Christian might for a while have to experience the “bottom,” but that is the surest, in fact, the sole pathway to the “top.” Happy Easter!