“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” -- St. Pope John Paul II
All throughout this Lent, if you’ve been on one form of social media or another, you have probably seen things like “this is the Lentiest Lent I have ever Lented” or “this Lent we gave up everything” or some other quip about our current situation due to the pandemic, and its timeliness for Lent. Indeed, when it first began, and we found ourselves more and more limited, we thought at first that it would fit nicely into the Lenten calendar. (How convenient, the kids finally accomplished giving up school for Lent.) Aside from the light humor, we know that these measures are saving a lot of lives, and understand that in the midst of our limitations, many people are suffering in ways we shudder to think about.
As it goes on, we’ve realized that the stay-at-home orders and crowd limitations will last much longer than we originally thought, and that many things will be different for a long time. Even when things begin to change for the better, it will be a slow return to normal, or whatever normal will look like.
It paints a somewhat dour picture for Easter Sunday.
Normally, on Easter, for those who participated in the season of Lent, it is a time of rejoicing and emancipation from
the penances that we took on. Even if for Christians who don’t observe Lent, it is the most sacred and joyful of feasts. It is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, a return to the conclusion of the Paschal Mystery, where Jesus conquers death and sin. Death used to be the last word, but now, Christ is the last Word, and within Him, we pass through death into a new life. On Easter Sunday, even mass seems to have a new freshness with the singing of the Gloria again, bells ringing, more hymns being sung, and the lighting of the Easter candle and renewal of our baptismal promises.
All of these things, as with any celebration, are meant to draw us into the meaning of the celebration. But now, these signs that symbolize the meaning of Easter and the Resurrection will be absent from us. Even with a virtual mass, the lack of congregation with our parish and even family members we are separated from might make us feel that Easter is just not the same this year.
Obviously, it isn’t all about emotion, but after “feeling” Lent differently this year, will we be able to embrace Easter when nothing of our circumstances will change? We can’t just let go of social distancing. We can’t just ignore the multitude of suffering. This is not the first time, of course, that Easter has been celebrated during great upheaval, but for most of us today, it is our time to celebrate Easter during a time of great upheaval. It is an invitation to ask Jesus for graces of the Resurrection in a new way.
If this were a normal year, we would have let go of our self-imposed penances. Instead, what can we let go of and hand over to Jesus this Easter? Perhaps, there are new fears and anxieties, or a desire to control something or someone. We can let go of these and give them to Christ, who triumphs over suffering and makes all things new. It is not an avoidance of our reality or willful ignorance of suffering, but a new disposition towards it. One of the graces of the Resurrection that we are invited to receive is the hope of the Resurrection; the knowledge that the suffering of this world passes away, and that nothing we suffer here can compare to the glory of Heaven.
When we renew our baptismal promises during Easter mass, we are asked to revisit the pillars of our faith and re-bind ourselves to them. Pope Benedict XVI, in a meditation for Holy Thursday talked about the Passover tradition of the Jews returning to Jerusalem each year, and said: “In the course of a year, a people are always in danger of disintegrating, not only through external causes, but also interiorly, and of losing hold of the inner motivation that sustains it. It needs to return to its fundamental origin.” Our faith, our conviction in the reality of the Resurrection even if we did not witness it ourselves, must be rekindled each year. Renew your promises. Pray the Apostles’ Creed fervently, asking the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into your faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). From this, make your home a new church.
Finally, as any day of the year, we are invited to encounter Jesus more deeply in our hearts. On Easter, we can place ourselves in the shoes of the people who met him on the first Easter morning. St. Mary Magdalene finds Him in the garden, and after recognizing Him, tries to embrace Him, leading to a very social-distancy comment from Jesus: “Do not touch me”, or in some translations, “Do not hold onto me” (John 20:17). Jesus tells Mary Magdalene that He has not yet ascended to His Father. He was preparing Mary and the other disciples to encounter Him in a new way. Away from our churches and communities of faith, it can feel like we are unable to embrace Christ as we wish, especially without Holy Communion. But it forces us, while we wait to receive Christ in the Eucharist again, to seek Him differently. Is it to seek Him more in the people currently around us, or maybe far away, but we know that we need to reach out to? Is it in Sacred Scripture, where He desires to inscribe His Words onto our hearts? Is it in a more quiet prayer life, where we learn to be with our Savior and just get to know His voice? There is nothing of the Presence of Jesus that the Eucharist lacks. But how much more will we be prepared to receive Jesus in the Eucharist when we have spent so much time with Him before in prayer, in scripture, and in the people around us?
Easter is a season of joy. Joy is sometimes not easily found, but in darker moments, the joy that we do find is often much deeper and profound than in lighter moments. Easter joy heals, renews, gives life, and encourages selfless love. And when we encounter the Resurrected Lord in these times, we encounter Easter joy. I’ll leave you with the extended version of St. John Paul II’s oft-repeated quote:
“We are meant to have our human joys: the joy of living, the joy of love and friendship, the joy of work well done. We who are Christians have a further cause for joy: like Jesus, we know that we are loved by God our Father. This love transforms our lives and fills us with joy...We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery - the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”
See prayer services for at home for the Easter Vigil (Saturday Night) and Easter Sunday below: