The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith. This is the point at which God defeated death, and reconciled the world to himself, forging a new and eternal covenant with his people. The Resurrection is so important that the early Christians quickly began to commemorate it every week, on Sunday. Of course, it is celebrated in a special way each year at Easter.
When Jesus prophesied his own suffering and death, his apostles refused to accept it; it was unthinkable for them. Imagine their horror when the man they thought was the Messiah was hung upon a cross to die, slowly and painfully, in utter humiliation. Then, imagine their joy when three days later: an empty tomb! The Lord walking among them once again!
Easter is a time of pure and boundless joy. The Easter season lasts 50 days, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost. The joy that comes from the Resurrection cannot be contained in a single day.
Cultivate joy, gratitude
The long tradition of the Church has passed down to us numerous ways to cultivate Easter joy in the weeks and months following Easter Sunday.
One way of cultivating Easter joy that the Church provides is to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by receiving him — body, blood, soul and divinity — in the Eucharist. Every Sunday is set aside as a special celebration of the Resurrection, a commemoration of Christ’s victory over death; but we must bear in mind that every celebration of the Mass makes present the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and celebrates his glorious Resurrection. In that sense, there is no better time than Easter to attend daily Mass whenever possible, to make it a priority. More and more parishes offer evening Mass during the week, to allow working professionals to attend. Seeking out opportunities like this is one way to cultivate Easter joy and live in the Resurrection.
The word “Eucharist” is derived from a Greek term meaning “thanksgiving.” And the Easter season is perfectly suited to help in forming habits of gratitude. One way we can help ourselves recognize and truly internalize just what happened at the Resurrection would be to diligently work to grow in gratitude in our own lives. All of us are given countless blessings by God, and far more often than not they are blessings we do not even recognize or acknowledge. It takes effort, but it is important to try to recognize these blessings and be grateful.
We can start by reflecting on the Resurrection itself. What a tremendous blessing, a gift that can never be adequately reciprocated: God became incarnate, offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and defeated death once and for all. We should give thanks to God every day for this blessing and grow in a general sense of gratitude for the blessings God bestows upon us.
The Resurrection journey
Another way Catholics can cultivate Easter joy during this season is by putting ourselves in the shoes of the apostles, and walking with Jesus during the period after the Resurrection. The Stations of the Cross are one of the most widely known and practiced devotions among Catholics; this method of walking with Jesus, prayerfully joining him in his own steps, helps Catholics to understand Christ’s passion and death. Following Easter, we should consider walking with Jesus in the same way in regards to his earthly life between the Resurrection and the Ascension.
The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles recount these days of Jesus’ life, at some points in great detail. Prayerfully reflecting on these passages can lead to great insights, and foster a deeper connection with this relatively little-thought-of period.
There are stories of the profound and boundless joy experienced by the disciples of Jesus when they encountered him risen; even Thomas, the eponymous doubter, upon realizing that Jesus had truly risen and was standing before him, showing his wounds, was so overcome that he could but say, “My Lord and my God!” This is the joy we all should cultivate in ourselves and help foster in our community.
The bridegroom is with us
The Easter season is also a wonderful opportunity to extend Lenten observances — or add more. If one’s Lenten observance was to pray 15 minutes a day, why stop at Easter? This should be a habit formed in Lent and continued with joy throughout Easter and beyond. This may even be a time to add things like regular adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; or praying of the Rosary; or joining the ordained, religious and many lay men and women all over the world in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours.
This is not a penitential season, however. Jesus said, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt 9:15). The bridegroom is with us! He is risen! This is not a time for fasting, but for celebration and joy. And we can foster that joy by uniting ourselves with Jesus.
If there is one thing that can be learned from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is that death is no longer the final answer. In willingly sacrificing himself for the sake of all humanity — and every single individual person specifically — and dying on the cross, only to be gloriously resurrected on the third day, our Lord overcame death once and for all. The gates of heaven have been thrown open, and God extends a hand of welcoming to each and every one of us. We need simply to accept the forgiveness he offers, and be welcomed into his loving embrace.
Reconciled to the Father
In the Easter season, it seems impossible not to be reminded of the Prodigal Son. There is perhaps no other story, apart from Christ’s passion and resurrection, that better communicates to us the love and boundless forgiveness of God. The father in the story tells us so much about how God feels about his own children, and this is even truer after the Resurrection: My son who was once lost, is now found! How can we contain our joy at this forgiveness and reconciliation? We should not contain it! Death no longer holds sway over us; we have each been given a glorious opportunity to accept God’s unending love and forgiveness. There is no greater gift.
We see this tale again and again throughout salvation history: God forms a covenant with his people, only to have his people betray that covenant and do their best to sever the bond. And yet, time and again, God remains steadfast — unfailingly steadfast. There is always reconciliation on the horizon, always an opportunity for God’s people to accept his offer of forgiveness and be reconciled to him. Recognizing this is one incredibly profound way to celebrate the Easter season.
The theme of God’s forgiveness is particularly close to the heart of our current Holy Father. In his first Sunday Angelus address, only a few days after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis famously said “God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience that he has with each of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, he understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart. ... The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking forgiveness.”
God has provided ultimate and endless forgiveness to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. It may seem impossible that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate and dwelt among us; it may seem unthinkable that this incarnate second person of the Trinity suffered and died the most ignominious and humiliating death imaginable; and it may seem utterly absurd that, after all that, he rose again, glorified.
But it is true, all of it. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Because of this, we are filled with joy — Christ is risen! Let us cultivate that joy in ourselves and everywhere.
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.