There are two “major” celebrations on the church calendar – Christmas and Easter. One we celebrate with joy and festivity. The other we generally celebrate quietly, with a little more reserve and certainly a lot more reverence and solemnity.
The latter, of course, is Easter – actually a compilation of the days that begin on Palm Sunday and end with Christ’s resurrection, encompassing His great command at the Thursday Eucharistic meal, His passion, and His reprehensible death along the way.
But to look at Easter season with sadness, I feel, is missing the whole point. These few days are the foundation of our entire faith. Without the pain, suffering, death – and most important – resurrection, Jesus was just another kind-hearted man with a vision.
Certainly, the agony is worth remembering. In fact, the agony is worth feeling. But it is the resurrection we should focus on … and that should give us reason to celebrate – really celebrate.
When I was growing up – as, probably, most of us can remember – the emphasis of Lent was denial. And being just average kids, we looked forward to Sundays because we could “forget” the denials – candy, ice cream or whatever. It was a “day off.”
Then came Holy Week. The palms were nice, but again, the focus shifted immediately into the passion and for the next few days, Jesus’ suffering was drummed into our heads. Good Friday was a day of quiet, reflecting on Jesus’ death.
Somehow, that was almost the end of the message. Easter Sunday was anti-climactic. We spent so much time dwelling on the death of Jesus, His resurrection almost got lost.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Despite the commercialism that has grown, as a faith community we can sense the joy of the season. It is truly a celebration.
What about Easter? Is that same joy present? Is there any joy present?
I don’t think so.
Over the years I’ve theorized about why. Perhaps it is because there is no fixed date. Perhaps it is because we are, generally, still depressed from a long winter.
But perhaps it is also because we reduce the entire Lenten season – particularly Holy Week and Good Friday – to the suffering Jesus. As humans, we don’t like suffering … in ourselves or in others.
As a result, our minds and emotions shut down around Good Friday. It’s just too painful for us to watch this Jesus die this death. It becomes even more painful when we consider He died for us, our sins contributed to the weight of the cross, the sting of the nails, the labored breathing, the disgraceful death.
The focal point of the season should be 36 hours later … Easter, the empty tomb. We should have our eyes on that empty tomb at Easter – just as we have out eyes fixed on the crib at Christmas.
While sharing the Eucharistic meal, we should recognize the Jesus of the empty tomb. While recalling the passion of Jesus, we should be looking to that empty tomb. While reflecting on the crucifixion, we should contemplate its meaning as a necessary step from this world to the empty tomb. As we ponder the mystery of the risen Christ at Vigil, Sunrise or Easter services, we should see the mystery in light of that empty tomb.
A moved rock, nothing but a shroud, an empty tomb. That’s the foundation of our faith. Jesus’ resurrection makes it possible for us to be resurrected. And just as Jesus replaced His spot in the tomb for a place at His Father’s table, so, too, will our tomb be emptied and we will join Father, Son, Spirit and our fellow believers at that same table.
That’s cause for celebration.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
This originally was written while I was editor at the Catholic Standard, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC; re-published in my newspaper, Reveille/Between the Lakes; and previously on this blog. I thought I would share it with this new audience as well.