It’s Easter Sunday. Those 40 days of Lent might already be a distant memory as you are jarred out of your slumber by your children’s pleas to see if the Easter Bunny has come. Shrieks of excitement greet you as your little ones plunge their fists into mounds of plastic green grass and pull out chocolate bunnies, yellow Peeps and tie-dyed hard-boiled eggs.
Before the post-euphoric stress can set in, you get everyone dressed in his or her Sunday best and head off to Mass. You hear an inspired homily, reaffirm your baptismal vows and receive Communion.
After being told to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” you head off to Grandma’s house. There, you enter into a feast of ham, casseroles and delectable desserts. The afterdinner conversation around the flat screen is dominated by a brain trust of economists, political operatives and professional athletes, all of the armchair variety.
A few more hours pass and you come to the end of another religious holiday spent in the company of kin. You wonder to yourself what all the fuss was about. Caught up in the nostalgia that such gatherings evoke, you lose yourself in thought as your family members gather their things and disperse.
That night at home in bed, you juggle thoughts of the Risen Christ, yellow Peeps, the empty tomb and Easter eggs. As the first silence of the day settles over you, you think to yourself, “What does it all mean?” After a mere 16 hours after it began, has Easter really come and gone?
Making it last
Maybe that scenario of Easter dystopia sounds familiar, or perhaps you have other visions of the holiday in your head. Whatever the case, far too many of us fail to realize the nature of the Easter season as evidenced by two extremes. On one end of the spectrum is the riotous observance of the first Sunday of Easter, where all virtuous and dignified practices taken up for Lent are quickly discarded in a mad dash to embrace our pre-Lenten habits. On the other end of the spectrum is the impoverished view of Easter that sees it as a holiday like any other, not as good as Thanksgiving and not as fun as Christmas. Both of these utterly miss the meaning of the season.
You’ll no doubt recall from your Catholic grade school days that Lent lasts for 40 days from Ash Wednesday to the start of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. At that point, Lent comes to an end and the Sacred Triduum carries us to Easter Sunday, which marks the beginning of the seven-week celebration we call the Easter season. What for many people is a half-day hurrah filled with food, family and festivities is in reality meant to be a 50-day observance of the resurrection of Christ — from Easter Sunday to the feast of Pentecost, this year marked May 19.
We have no problem remembering to observe Christmas, and most of us wouldn’t think of forgetting Lent. However, when it comes to Easter, the holiest day of the year and most important season of the year, we might not give it a second thought.
But we should.
Easter is more important than Advent, Christmas and Lent. As St. Athanasius of Alexandria, a bishop and doctor of the Church, pointed out, the Easter season should be seen as one “Great Sunday.”
Practices that count
The purpose of observing the 40 days of Lent is to discipline ourselves, adopt new religious practices and serve others in order to get better at living as Christians. We observe Lent so that we can live our baptism more fully.
The question for us is: Why would we adopt these Lenten practices — practices meant to help us live our baptism more fully — only to discard them with the arrival of Easter?
Easter is not a post-Lent Mardi Gras where we undo everything just put into place. Rather, it is a chance to celebrate and integrate into our spirituality the practices we have adopted during Lent.
The Easter season is all about celebrating, but not just any kind of celebration. During Easter we are called to live out our baptism, which means we have to celebrate as Christians. Easter is intended to help us celebrate what it means to be a person of faith.
As part of our observance of the liturgical year, Easter is designed to help us celebrate everything that is good and beneficial to us spiritually, physically, emotionally and intellectually. We celebrate because we recognize that all goodness comes from God and is granted to us through Christ.
The problem is that as Catholic Christians, we aren’t very good at celebrating as Christians. Celebrating is fundamentally about expressing our gratitude for the gifts we have been given and taking time to experience them while mindfully recognizing that their source is in God.
Learning to observe the seasons of the liturgical year is just like any other aspect of Catholic spirituality: it takes a lot of practice, some trial and error and an abiding faith that the Holy Spirit is with us as a guide.
An extraordinary gift
There are dozens of practices that we can adopt that will help us to begin to see Easter as the pinnacle of the liturgical year and a seven-week long adventure in spiritual celebration (see sidebar).
Just take one of these suggestions and try it. This may be the first year you attempt to observe the Easter season, but, if you keep it up, with the passage of each year you will grow to have a deeper understanding of the nature of our Easter celebration.
If we don’t do Easter well, then the rest of the liturgical year will never make any sense to us. We have all been given an extraordinary gift and it is time to celebrate. Christ has truly risen.
Jerid Miller writes from Kentucky.