Saturday, April 30, 2011

"We are the Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!"

A priest was shaking hands with the people as they left after Mass on Easter Sunday morning. As Joe tried to pass by, the priest pulled him aside as said, “Joe, you need to join the Army of the Lord.” Joe replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Father.” “Well, then how come I only see you in church on Christmas and Easter?” the priest asked. Joe whispered back, “I’m in the Secret Service.”

In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright takes a look at the life-changing and even world-changing power of the Resurrection of Jesus and makes the case that Christians could do a better job of celebrating Easter properly. If you think about it, here we are just a week after Easter – still in the Octave of Easter – and the world has moved on. We’re focused on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, First Communions, summer vacations and the like – it wouldn’t surprise me if we started seeing Fall clothing in the stores soon.

Lent is a different story. We marked our 40 day journey of Lent with fasting, self-denial and special liturgies and times of prayer. There were ashes at the beginning and palms near the end. The Triduum gathered us with Jesus at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and at the foot of His cross on Good Friday. All of Lent embodies the way of the cross as the way of life and salvation. But, once Lent is over; as soon as the Easter Vigil and the festivity of Easter Sunday are done, resurrection joy seems to fade as fast as the Easter lilies wilt. The celebration of Easter seems to fade into the secret service.

But, as our beloved former Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified today, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and alleluia is our song.” Easter isn’t merely an historical commemoration – it is and should be for us – a way of life. The resurrection of Jesus is the most central reality in our faith. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” Resurrection changes everything. In his book, Wright suggests that “if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up.” He suggests finding the opportunities to be more social with family and friends and faith community – to enjoy one another and celebrate our common bonds as sons and daughters of God. He recommends that we joyfully remember our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever – by splashing water joyfully. He recommends that we go around town engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; that we become the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world. That our Easter candle not be a mere light in our Church building, but that we become that bright light for all the world to see.

If people noticed our ashes and our fasting and abstinence during Lent; they should also now notice our joy and happiness in the reality of the resurrection. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is the meaning of all of this?”

If the assertion is correct that we have forgotten how to celebrate Easter properly; we see evidence of it even in our Gospel passage today. Certainly for the frightened disciples locked in the Upper Room, resurrection joy has faded. On the evening of Easter day, instead of celebrating, that have withdrawn into hiding and locked themselves away.

It isn’t difficult to imagine why. A coalition of secular and religious authorities has conspired to crucify Jesus. Perhaps the disciples feared that the people who had come for Jesus might now come for them. Along with that, you can’t help but wonder if the disciples were hiding in shame over personal failure, too. They had let Jesus down, failed Him in so many ways. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Thomas suggested that if the disciples were going to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, they might as well die with Him. They didn’t. At the Last Supper, Peter said to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” He didn’t. In fact, just a few hours later, he denied Jesus.

This must be the reason that the first words Jesus speaks to His disciples are, “Peace be with you.” It is an astonishing gift, this gift of peace, for the people who had denied, betrayed and abandoned Jesus. It is an astonishing gift that Jesus extends to us as well – we who know how we have failed Him by what we have done and what we have left undone. To us all – those disciples in the Upper Room and you and I in this Church – God’s love comes in person. The Risen Christ shows the disciples His hands and side as signs of divine mercy and love for the world. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus said the night before His death. To understand that you and I remain friends of Jesus, even after betrayal and denial is astonishing. To find in Him reconciliation and not revenge or punishment is in itself new life. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says to the disciples, and even to Thomas in his doubt. He says it to us as well. And with those simple words, resurrection joy is restored. Easter goes on.

Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples, or us, where He finds us – tucked away in fear, failure, and seclusion. And He doesn’t let us hold tight to His forgiveness and peace as a private possession. Jesus moves quickly from love’s evidence to love’s mission, from Easter’s declaration to Easter’s celebration. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

That’s our mission – to go out in Jesus’ name as Jesus had been sent. Our task and our calling is to embody our Lord’s life in and for the world. As the Easter people we are called to share God’s abundance to people in need; to speak love in a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; to show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; or offer hope to someone who aches under failure. We are called not to be Christians in the Secret Service; but the Easter people who cry out alleluia to the world around us. We know that the disciples withdrawal in the Upper Room was temporary; that Thomas went from doubting to proclaiming, “My Lord and My God!” Let us be a people markedly different for the 50 days of Easter and beyond because He has truly risen, as He said!!

Let us make St. Peter’s words today our own, “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Father Tom! I have been looking for source of that idea that we do not celebrate Easter as well as we should be -- with champagne and balloons and fireworks, for goodness sake! And I just stumbled on your blog while looking for the words of ANOTHER quote: "We are Easter people..." and found the N.T.Wright mention, too. G-D bless you, and Happy Easter, the feast of Victory of our Lamb, King Jesus. Yours in Christ, Faith McDonnell