Easter season is a period of fifty days. Yet many people forget and think it is merely a single day or perhaps a week. Why is it so hard to feast for fifty days and what could change our indifference? Perhaps the answer lies in contrasts. Imagine if Easter followed Christmas—we would be completely desensitized by our gluttony!
Carnival: Expression of Gratitude
Speaking of gluttony, some cultures make more of the contrasts beginning before Lent. Places like Brazil, New Orleans, and Cologne support vibrant public celebration of Carnival, Mardi Gras, or Fastnachtzeit that is characterized by music, dancing, costume, and pageantry. While Carnival has a reputation for debauchery, at its core, it is an expression of gratitude. Literally, “carnival” is a farewell to the meat. Feasting is our acceptance of all the good things God gives us. We can sin as much by our ingratitude and sense of self-sufficiency as we can by being too proud to repent and do penance. This movement from carnival to Lent to Easter is a beautiful expression of humility through which we allow God to bestow (Carnival) and allow God to take away (Lent), confident in the gift of eternal life that awaits us in the Resurrection at Easter.
Lent: Lasting Transformation
The greater one’s capacity for sorrow, the greater one can experience joy. The more deeply we enter into Lent, the more sincerely we can celebrate Easter. If we have given up chocolate for forty days, come Easter we can eat a lot of chocolate for a day or a week but eventually we will feel sick. We cannot really feast on chocolate for fifty days. Rather, it is a true Lenten conversion that begets fifty days of genuine celebration. A friend in Australia recently shared a sign from a church in his area that read: “This Lent let’s give up imprisoning refugees.” Catholic Bishops there have spoken out against widespread detention of refugees despite the country’s obligations under the Refugee Convention. The goal is not to return to these practices after Lent is finished! For the Resurrection to follow Lent, a real change has to take place in individual hearts, in the church, in society so that neither we, nor the world, will ever be the same again. True conversion is painful but has lasting implications for individuals and for the world.
Easter: The Whole of the Paschal Mystery
Living the Resurrection means embracing the whole of the Paschal Mystery. Jesus rose from the dead but those who loved him missed him and were grieving. Our own movement out of darkness does not mean we will be happy every day thereafter. Our struggle may continue as we feel the pain of loss or bewilderment from having released our attachments but that is because one cannot really separate the Paschal Mystery into its parts. The Cross makes no sense apart from the Resurrection. To live in the Resurrection, we also have to embrace the Cross. Liturgy reminds us that our experience of the seasons is not merely a matter of individual spirituality but a movement of the entire body of Christ. There is cause for rejoicing during Lent at the birth of a child, a job for the unemployed, a remission of a cancer. There is room for sorrow during Easter at the death of a loved one or in the face of ongoing homelessness, human trafficking, and violence against the innocent. These contrasts challenge us to hold the fullness of the Paschal Mystery, the Passion and Resurrection, in tension at all times.
It is not easy to celebrate for fifty days. At about the third week of Easter the lilies in our sanctuaries start to wilt. We have to figure out how to make the first blooms of our Easter celebration last until Pentecost and throughout the year as we recall that every Sunday, no matter the season, no matter our feelings, is a little Easter. The liturgical year is itself a discipline that rehearses our membership in the Body of Christ and our daily participation in the Paschal Mystery.