Living with Paschal Gladness

The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal. With yesterday’s celebration of the Liturgy of the Resurrection, we started the season of Easter. Sunday’s liturgy highlights the themes that will echo through the season.

The first is joy: O happy day! The Lord is risen! The whole season is one of returning again and again to the Resurrection, otherwise we will not grasp it.

Secondly, the power of death is no longer. Everyday attempts to remove the sting of death – through trying to make life longer; through filling every second of the day with activity; through trying to look younger; through planning to leave a dynasty or a legacy; through making death the subject of entertainment – are all futile. Only God breaks the great terror that death holds for us, a fear so great that it shapes daily life for just about everyone, even if we won’t admit it.

Sunday’s gospel is so simple: Jesus was dead and buried and then he wasn’t. We should be on our knees in awe over all this means for us. But the readings start with Jesus’ ministry: “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” But then: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance.” We too were chosen by God, graced in faith, and Saint Paul says to us: “you were raised with Christ.” 

Thirdly, the results of the Resurrection are stupendous: “O God who . . . through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternal life.” (Collect) So the reference points in life have shifted dramatically. From following television lifestyles and learning about the moral life from a political party, we have joined the family of the living God. His grace – his own presence – is the foundation of our new life with him. No longer do we do all that we do compensating for our fear of death.

We are in a new and extraordinary state: “You have laid your hand upon me, alleluia. Too wonderful for me this knowledge, alleluia, alleluia.” The Lord is “with us still.” (Entrance Antiphon) How many angry words, how many bad thoughts does his presence show up as being just too small and mean to be worthy of us in this noble new relationship?

The Church is different too. We rise above treating the Church as a mere part of life’s routine. We have permission to be “exultant with paschal gladness.” (Prayer over the Offerings) The Church is not business as usual because, by this Easter celebration of the Eucharist, “your Church is wondrously reborn and nourished.”

Let’s look for signs of the rebirth of the Church. We can see them in the pope, for example. What a brilliant idea to give out copies of the Gospels in Saint Peter’s Square! It is not just a tourist attraction after all. His marvelous emphasis on the person-to-person foundation of Christianity warms the heart.

His stepping into the crowd and the impromptu interviews have brought Catholicism back into everyday conversation, which is where it should be. After all it is the key to the meaning of the world. So people get the conversation wrong sometimes. That never happened before? There is so much evil in the world that it will distort any truth that contradicts it. That does not mean the word does not get proclaimed.

Pope Francis has stepped into the marketplace. I wonder how many of his bishops, clergy, and laity he will find there? He is not afraid of people and he loves them enough to reach out to them where they are. He does not cower in the institution and he also does not assume that the life of faith is insulated from the world at large. Georges Bernanos would have been gratified. He used to speak about the kind of Christian who looks down on the world through the windows of the Church. Pope Francis is the antidote to that attitude.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, on Easter Sunday, we relish the whole palette of the effects of the Resurrection. The Solemn Blessing mentions two more: the glorious risen Jesus “defend[s] us from every assault of sin.” Raising such moments to consciousness helps our spiritual growth. In this season, Jesus accompanies us “to those feasts that are celebrated in eternal joy.” Our history of salvation is punctuated by ecclesial feasts that open the doors to the liturgy of Heaven.

Celebrating the Resurrection is a constant reminder of the transcendent dimensions of life that our materialism easily stifles. The feasts of Christ draw us into the history of the fullest humanity, namely humanity united for eternity with God in Christ. In the words of Sunday’s Sequence: “Yes, Christ my hope is arisen; to Galilee he goes before you. Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!”

Enjoy this season!