Dear Father Joe – I’ve never understood why it’s June and we’re still celebrating Easter at church. Why isn’t Easter over at the end of Easter Sunday?
I think if we take a few minutes to really look at Easter, we’ll understand why it encompasses a whole season in the Church, not just a day. At Easter, we look not just at what Jesus did for us in the resurrection, but also what he did to us.
When I was a younger man, I traveled to Jerusalem and I went to the place where they laid Jesus’ body. It was an extraordinary experience to place my hand on the stone. I was blown away with the realization that this was the place where Hope was born. This was the place where God proved his love was stronger than all the hate and sin of the human race.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to embrace daily the reality of taking up the cross and following him. We are conscious of this reality. We carry it in our hearts. We ponder this when we encounter suffering in our lives. We focus on “offering it up” and joining our pain to his pain. Daily, we remember that following Jesus comes with a cost, but this beautiful Easter season is a time for us to remember in a special way what that cost yields.
To do this, we’ll go back a bit and start from the Incarnation. In the mystery of God becoming man, Jesus embraced the human condition; he made it his own. He took every part of the human experience and drew it into the divine. Dr. Peter Kreeft put it this way, “The first time Jesus wept, human tears became holy.”
In tying himself so perfectly to the human condition, he made it possible for us to go to heaven. He walked through the darkest of human experiences and transformed them into divine experiences. Had he done nothing more than this, we would still worship him. We would still call him Lord.
Lent focuses this reality. During Lent, we spent 40 days walking with Jesus through his passion. We did so to allow him to tie us more deeply to himself. This is important. We need to be more like Christ. We need to allow him to train our minds and hearts to embrace his priorities, to reject what the world and the devil and our flesh say is important.
The more we become like Christ in mind and body, the better we are at following him.
And so, we set ourselves about the best task we could ever be commissioned to – to follow Christ. We follow him through the difficulties of our lives and through the joys. We follow him through those glorious moments where, for even a moment, we understand. We follow him through those dark and difficult days where we do not understand, but we trust.
We respond to Christ entering our condition and transforming by walking with him through his suffering and death.
As we recognize Christ walking with us, as we walk with him in a unique way during Lent, as we follow him through his suffering and death, we realize something extraordinary: he’s been leading us to heaven.
We carve seven weeks out of our lives to ponder and celebrate the fact that we’re following Jesus to a specific destination. This is not a random journey where God adapts to the changing circumstances of our lives and tries to “make it all work out.” This has been, and always will be, an intentional journey toward the kingdom of heaven.
In the Resurrection, we realize Jesus not only took on the human experience and joined it to the divine, he invites us into the divine with him. Our Preface prayer at Easter Masses reminds us that, through his resurrection, Jesus has “thrown open the gates of heaven to his faithful. For his death is our ransom from death and in his resurrection, the life of all has risen!”
We carry this in our hearts and allow the truth of it to change us.
He has so united himself to us that we who follow him carry his resurrection in our body and in our soul. The resurrection power of Christ lives in us.
We have all stood at too many graves and wept over the horror of death. We have all stood in the face of circumstances and situations that seemed so powerful as to overwhelm us. We have all pondered our lives and believed that we would always be hurt and damaged. We have all suffered because of our sins, and we have suffered because of the sins of others. At some point, we have all decided that hope was gone.
The Easter season is the time when we hold those moments up to the lens of the resurrection, and claim the hope that Christ gives through his resurrection. We have hope that Christ has brought, and will continue to bring, life out of death. We embrace the wonder of an invincible, all-powerful God taking on all the sin and pain of the human race, putting it to death on the cross and rising because his love is stronger. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are “more than conquerors” because of Christ. In this Easter season, ask God to strengthen in us the hope that we who follow Jesus are following him to the kingdom of heaven. Enjoy another day in God’s presence.