The Meaning of Easter
Selections from last night’s Easter Vigil mass:
- The Easter Vigil is the turning point of the Triduum, the Passover of the new covenant which marks Christ’s passage from death to life. Easter is about redemption.
- God has secured the victory: Exodus 14:13-15 – And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”
- Renewing an everlasting covenant: Isaiah 55:1-11 – Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
- The Lord will pour clean water over the people and give them a new heart: Ezekiel 36:24-28 – For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
- The Lord is risen: Matthew 28:1-8 – Now, after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” so they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
- From the priest’s homily: With Easter, death has lost its sting. The tomb is powerless and empty.
And from The Anchoress:
…Depressed yet? Through ordinary lenses, things indeed look pretty bleak. But Easter is here, and through the lenses of hope, its early arrival seems perfectly timed.
Those still digging out from snow and searching in vain for a sprig of crocus might be excused for thinking otherwise, and the relentless negatives confronting us through media do seem to accentuate the dark. But Easter helps shine light on the small positives all around us — things we might miss and step over, without its bright beams.
This week former Soviet leader Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev visited the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and, after kneeling in prayer for thirty minutes, confirmed that he is, in fact, a Christian. Somehow that admission had the effect, for many, of demonstrating the long-term reach of the hand of God, as their memories pieced together a few seemingly unrelated events, and found meaning: memories of an early 20th-centery happening in Fatima, Portugal, where the Mother of Christ instructed illiterate farm children to warn the world about “Russia’s mistakes” and to pray for that nation. Memories of President Ronald Reagan suggesting that Gorbachev was a “closet Christian” and of the Soviet leader’s unprecedented engagement with Pope John Paul II, who had himself nearly been assassinated by then-communist Bulgaria. Memories of walls coming down, “overnight.”
Memories take on a different cast in the long-term view.
And that is what Easter is — the long-term view — the answer to day-to-day bleakness. A review begins on the night before Easter, as Orthodox and Eucharistic churches chant out — through the eyes of faith — the whole history of the world; from creation to awareness, to covenant, to exile, to suppression, to oppression, to unthinkable incarnation and finally resurrection, salvation and sustenance, all woven together into a marvelous whole, and bound with the message, “I am with you always.”
On Easter Sunday, upon the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, death was cast aside as a mere moment in the “marvelous whole” of eternity, and there we learned that days of bleakness and shadow are overcome. A light may pierce darkness, but darkness may never pierce light, and so light is ever dominant, ever powerful. Christians believe Christ is that light, and that his love, his lessons, his sacrifice and his resurrection illuminate even our darkest corners with hope, and thus fullness of redemption, even from ourselves.
And with that mindset, we may be reassured and becalmed. If the daily news can seem all-too weighty and burdensome, if it leads us into anxiety and cynicism and engenders within us a strain of hopelessness — a sense that nothing ever changes — then on this day of all days we can take a minute to reflect on the long-view of things. Did an unhappy incident at one moment of our lives have a positive effect on us down the road? Did one lost opportunity lead us into something (or someone) we now love, but never would have encountered, had we gotten our then-heart’s desire? Can we look back on a terrible memory and realize that we lived through it and were made stronger for doing so?
The abiding message of Easter is actually contained not in the gospels but in the Revelation: “see, I make all things new.” It is at Easter that we are most powerfully enjoined to remember that promise, and to reflect back on our lives and our histories, just long enough to perceive where we have come from, so that we may look forward with anticipation; with the awareness that nothing is static — that nothing we see today will be exactly the same tomorrow — and with heartfelt appreciation for the knowledge that as everything in our lives slowly evolves, there is a hand in it, a promise of Presence, all with a long-term mindset, and a view to eternity. Happy Easter.
A blessed Easter to all.