Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the April 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Throughout the Roman Catholic world the prayerful and inspiring celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil have come and gone – perhaps as quickly as they sprang upon us so early this calendar year. After weeks of anticipation through Lenten penance and extensive liturgical preparation, this grace-filled time quickly has passed. Or has it?
Actually, the Church first celebrates the octave of Easter — eight days of stretching out this great day of joy – with its triple “Alleluia!” at the end of Mass! Then the Church continues in glad song yet another 42 days until the Feast of Pentecost when the faithful celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Liturgically, Pentecost brings the Easter season to a close, only to return to a stretch of “ordinary” time. But for a people of faith, even then the Easter celebration does not end; it merely changes shape.
It truly is challenging in our culture to celebrate an event for such an extended period of time. It is one thing to celebrate something for a single, day, but not 50! Like so many other important Christian feasts, the Church’s long Easter celebration itself can become so ordinary that we can miss the full impact of the what we are celebrating. Often we can let society or the needs of commercialism establish the tone and timing of our celebration. Without prayerful sensitivity, the result can be a mere cultural ritual of festivities without substance.
Easter is “the day the Lord has made!” as we sing with enthusiasm. It is not an event produced by the manufacturers of colored eggs and chocolate bunnies or by the marketers of new clothes. Nor is Easter a date which merely is determined on the cosmic clock by turn of sun and moon. Easter is God’s day. After all, what is so significant about the Easter celebration that the Church would bid us take six weeks of Lenten penance to prepare? And 50 days to celebrate?
Basic Christian education gives the ready response: the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Is it possible that we can sometimes approach the feast of Easter and the news of Resurrection as if Jesus were merely a divine miracle worker? Is this what we celebrate at Easter — that Jesus lives and death is just proved powerless? That God has exercised his divine mastery over the ultimate law of nature? Is Jesus a victorious mighty-man who merely brushes aside the reality of death? Is his Easter cry, “Watch this! Not even the grave can stop me!” — and therewith instilling the kind of fear in the heart of humankind that responds to God out of obedience rather than grateful reverence and awe?
Such a reality may be a welcome thing for brash Divine Power. But what about us mortals? As much as we try to hide from its reality, death confronts us all. None of us can muster the ability to side-step its threat — all the contemporary talk about near-death experiences notwithstanding.
The good news of Jesus’ Resurrection is not that he miraculously escaped or fought off death. What makes Jesus’ Resurrection earth-shaking news is that through death he has come to fullness of life. He has embraced death – not merely conquered it. In death Jesus has trusted that God’s promise of fullness of life is real. In that sense, the Resurrection is more about God the Father’s response to the human-caused death of his Son than it is about Jesus’ exercise of divine might.
Right when the Father could have wiped out humankind for its rejection of the Word Incarnate, the response is one of compassionate love and recollection. At the sound of such wonder-filled news, the Christian world certainly must cry “Alleluia!” Not just “Wow!” at a display of death-defying power, but “Praise God!” to One whose unconditional love has had the final say. When our Easter songs joyously trumpet Jesus’ victory over death, we rejoice in the full reality of human existence and God’s promise to us in Jesus Christ. For us, death remains very real, but resurrection in Christ is the full and lasting reality of our lives. The Christian, in union with Jesus, embraces death, and with Him comes to fullness of life in God. As we often pray in the preface at a funeral Mass, “life truly is changed, not ended.” Our victory is found, not the miraculous cheating of death, but in the fulfillment of life we have in God because of Jesus.
Death took its claim on Jesus and just as surely will take its claim on us – regardless how much we hide behind the trappings of the Spring season to convince ourselves that resurrection is just part of a subtle evolutionary plan. Because of what has happened in the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth, we know and proclaim that life comes, not just after death, but through it. For the Christian death becomes but a part of living. And we shout “Alleluia!” for 50 days.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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