If I asked you, “How do you celebrate Christmas?” you would probably give me many examples: stringing lights, trimming the tree, decorating the house, baking certain cookies, cooking special meals, buying and receiving presents, parties of all kinds, family gatherings, Midnight Mass, etc.
But when I ask, “How do you celebrate Easter?” what would you say? Easter baskets, jelly beans, singing alleluia at the Easter Mass? The truth is we Christians are good at celebrating Jesus’ birth, but we’re not so good at celebrating Jesus’ rising. One reason is this: we all know what it means to be born. But we don’t know what it means to be risen from the dead.
Yet the Resurrection is the central truth of our Christian faith. How might we celebrate Easter in a way befitting such a glorious feast? I’ll suggest three ways—all based on key elements of the Easter story.
Peace. The first words Jesus speaks to his frightened disciples after the resurrection are these: “Peace be with you.” As we look around our world today, we see how desperately we need peace—in our world, our country, our neighborhoods, our families, and in ourselves. One way to celebrate Easter is to try to be a person of peace. We can do this in small ways. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton said that when he began to embrace a life of non-violence, he started by shutting doors more softly.
Similarly, we can become a person of peace by slowing down, by reducing our complaining, by refusing to repeat gossip, by speaking respectfully to everyone we encounter, by listening to others, by complimenting someone, and by counting our blessings.
Freedom. A second way to celebrate Easter is by exercising the gift of freedom that Jesus bestowed upon us through his resurrection. We can begin by asking: What is preventing me from being as free as Jesus?
Immediately we might think of addictions that prevent individuals from being free—the addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, and even to the internet or cellphone. But there are other things besides these types of addiction that can hinder our freedom: a lack of self-esteem, fear of what others think of us, hypersensitivity. We can also become “addicted” to our prejudices or our way of doing things (it’s my way or no way!). We may also be addicted to our need to be in control.
Joy. The great British Cardinal, John Henry Newman said, “The chief grace of early Christianity was joy.” We can never forget how many of those early martyrs went to their deaths singing! Talk about joy!
Does joy still mark us as Christians? The cause of our joy is simple: Jesus’ resurrection shows us that goodness triumphs over evil, that love is stronger than hatred, and that life wins out over death. If we really believe this, how could we be anything but joyful?
Perhaps this Easter season we can make a conscious effort to be more joyful. We could smile more, laugh more, hum more, dance more, have fun more, and try to look for the good in life. As the Jesuit writer John Powell said, “If you are happy, let your face know it!”
We could share joy with others by telling a joke, playing a game with someone, sharing a cartoon, watching a funny movie, treating someone to lunch. One theologian wisely said, “The opposite of joy is not sorrow. It is unbelief.”
So, this Easter, let us celebrate this great feast by becoming men and women of peace, by growing in the freedom of Jesus, and by living the joy that is the chief grace of our Christian faith.
I chose an ancient hymn for our song today, one you are probably familiar with. It’s entitled “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” and it was written in the 14th Century in Bohemia (where my ancestors come from!) It was originally written in Latin by an unknown composer. In the 18th Century it was translated into English.
What are some of the ways you celebrate Easter?