It is the evening of Good Friday. I have just returned from Christ the King Retreat House where a number of people gathered with me to walk and pray the way of the cross. As is true of many Good Fridays, the day has been gray and cloudy. The evening is windy and cold. I recall as a child thinking that the sun rarely shone on Good Friday. It seemed that nature itself was in mourning.
In the midst of this Good Friday evening, the need to prepare for the Easter Vigil and the Solemnity of Easter Sunday turned my thoughts to these beautiful celebrations and the days that follow them.
I suppose if we asked a child or a teenager or even some adults to name the most important day in our liturgical calendar, they would answer “Christmas.” From the earliest days of the Church, however, Easter has been considered the central Christian feast. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1Cor 15:14). Easter is not only the greatest Christian feast, it is the fulfillment of our faith as Christians. Through His death, Christ destroyed our bondage to sin; through His Resurrection, He brought us the promise of new life both on earth and eventually, on a day known only to Him, in eternity.
Most people think of Easter as a single day. It has never had the commercial appeal of Christmas and because it always falls on Sunday, most people do not get an additional day off from work. Easter, however, is not just a day. It is a whole season. The Easter season stretches all the way to the feast of Pentecost Sunday. Lent, which sometimes feels like it is lasting forever, is 40 days long. Easter, on the other hand, is 50 days long.
What we celebrate on Easter Sunday is such good news that the Church wants us to keep its message in our minds and hearts for more than a day. It takes more than a day to absorb the meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection and to awaken our memory of God’s power and presence in our lives.
In his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis reminds us that a believer is “essentially one who remembers” (13). At Masses all through the Easter season, the usual practice of reading from the Old Testament is replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles. These readings help us to remember the story of the Church’s earliest days and her mission to spread the faith throughout the world. They remind us of the heroism, controversies, persecutions, and miracles that testify to the continued presence of the Risen Christ in the world through the lives of His disciples and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In a well-known Easter Homily, St. John Chrysostom writes, “Let us celebrate this great and glorious feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, let us celebrate it with joy and devotion; the Lord is risen and has reawakened the whole earth” (Sermon, On the Resurrection).
The Easter season prolongs the glorious feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. It is a time to celebrate the gift of new life and hope and joy. It is a time to remember all the Lord has done for us. It is a time to think about our response to the good news and in particular our call to be missionary disciples.
“The ultimate miracle of Divine Love is this, that the life of the Risen Lord is given to us to give to one another. It is given to us to be lived at home, at work, in any place, any circumstances. It is to be lived through our natural human relationships through the people we know, the neighbors we see. It is given to us, if we will take it, literally into our hands and give it to others” (The Risen Lord, Caryll Houselander).
Easter and the days that follow it should be an encouragement and a sign of hope for us today. Despite war, violence, and personal struggles God has not abandoned us, nor left us to our own devices. The risen savior is still with us. The 50 days of Easter ask us to reflect on His presence, and — even in the face of danger or fear — to live with joy and hope as committed disciples of the risen Lord. Yes, thank God — Easter is more than a day!
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.