Isn't it a curious and concerning thing that so many of our Christian feasts have been overlaid - better, co-opted - by all sorts of customs that, though nice, have little to do with the essence of those feasts? Christmas comes first to mind, which for too many folks seems more a consumer-driven winter wonderland festival than the celebration of our Savior's birthday. And don't let me get me started on what popular American culture has done to the vigil of the Solemnity of all Saints ... better known, sadly, as Halloween.
But let's get back to Easter. A lot of folks on Easter will enjoy Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies and maybe some new clothes. Nothing wrong with that. But how many will give any real thought to the Resurrection of Christ from the dead ... and to its radical meaning for their lives?
Don't misunderstand what I am saying. I am neither grinch nor scrooge nor spoilsport. I do have to wonder, though, if spiritual writer Alan Jones is not onto something in his book, "Passion for Pilgrimage" when he writes: "Easter has largely deteriorated into a secular festival celebrating the coming of spring. At best, it celebrates the cycle of the seasons. At worst, it provides us with yet another occasion to spend money. Either way, the "glory" it celebrates can be pretty thin."
Has the glory of Easter gotten "thin?" If so, why? How? Have we Christians allowed ourselves to get too comfortable with the Gospel message, treating it as an old, familiar, taken for granted thing, its truth reduced, its Good News flattened, trivialized, no more shock value?
Could the problem be that too many of us have lost our capacity for wonder and awe? "The way to faith," Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes, "leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement ... We must grow in awe to reach faith."
If the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not reason for wonder, for amazement, then what is? Recall how in the early days of the Church, converts to the faith were so awestruck by the message of the Resurrection that they often risked their lives in deciding to be
baptized as Christians.
Whatever the analysis, we Christians can find ourselves anesthetized to the full impact of what we celebrate at Easter. Some would perhaps just as soon let it be about spring flowers and Easter egg hunts, because we really don't want to deal with Easter as the world-shaking, life-changing event that it is! Are we afraid to get too close to a divine surprise that turns things totally upside down, and calls us to radical change in how we see reality, in how we live ... and love?
Think about what is going on when people are baptized. The elect are washed in the waters of new life, plunged into the saving power of the Lord's Death and Resurrection, and forever changed at the very core of their being. They die to the old life and are reborn to the new, in ritual and in reality. And all thanks to those two Marys who went to Jesus' tomb and were startled by an angel's message: "I know that you are seeking Jesus, the anointed. He is not here ... He has been raised just as He said." And they ran to share the good news with the others.
Is this not cause for wonder, for awe, for amazement? Is this not reason for all of us this Easter to make a new, deep, life-changing decision for Jesus Christ? When we do, our lives will change. And we will become witnesses to the Good News, like those two Marys, and like St. Peter in his homily in Acts, who said, "You know what has happened ... They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day ... (and) He commissioned us to preach to the people."
In the same way, the Risen Christ who welcomes us into His embrace and into the community of His disciples, the Church, will also send us back out as witnesses to this Good News, as evangelizers, on fire with divine passion to let people know of our joy in Christ, and to make of this world a civilization of love, a culture of life, as God intends it, sharing the Good News with the poor, the disheartened, the alienated, the broken.
We prepare during Lent to celebrate the great day of the Lord's Resurrection. It happens in spring, but it is not about spring. That day, Resurrection Day, is about the majestic power of divine life breaking in upon a tired and fragmented world, offering us radical reason for awe and wonder and hope, and reminding us that our world with all of its wounds is good because it is God's world, and that our Church is holy because, despite the sin of us, its members, it remains the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
Hear Pope Francis:
"Christ's resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated the world ... It is an irresistible force ... However dark things are, goodness always reemerges and spreads. Each day in our world, beauty is born anew ... Such is the power of Resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power."
The Scriptures of the Easter feast evoke the memory, and spark the imagination, of a personal and cosmic passage from death to life in Christ. Sin and guilt, timidity and apathy, doubt and mistrust, bitterness and cynicism too often burden our lives, but they do not need to have the last word. That last word is Resurrection! It is life! It is hope! It is Christ! Claim Him for yourself this Easter! He has already claimed you! And do enjoy the chocolate bunnies, too.