I used to find Easter a letdown. Lent is so full of the self-improvement activities of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I typically add a midday prayer to my usual Morning and Evening Prayer. I decide what organizations I want to give alms to: a different one each week of Lent. And fasting: not from food (my health doesn’t allow for that), but from something I feel is keeping me from closeness to God. The past few years it has been fasting from judging others (or trying to).
Then comes Easter. The first week is always a joy, reading about Jesus’s various post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. But in my Catholic faith, the Easter season continues way beyond this: for a full fifty days, until Pentecost. Catholic practice doesn’t instruct me to do anything special during these fifty days. So instead of the fullness of God’s grace, I’ve felt this season to be an empty repetition of “Christ has risen.”
Until this year. I don’t know why… but this year, each day of the prolonged Easter season has filled me with grateful wonder. The Scripture selections in The Liturgy of the Hours, which I pray from, feel richly full. Each week there are passages from Romans:
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is the word of faith which we preach) (10:8).
If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him (6:8).
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through his Spirit dwelling in you (8:11).
Both in life and death we are the Lord’s (14:8).
I can’t get enough of meditating with these passages. Christ’s nearness, our very life in Christ, the Spirit’s dwelling within us: what could be more hope-filled than these truths of our faith? Maybe because my chronic life-threatening illness makes me daily aware of my mortality, I cling especially to these assurances of Christ’s eternal life right within me.
Each Morning and Evening Prayer in The Liturgy of the Hours includes intercessions, and during the Easter Season they naturally elaborate the implications of Christ’s resurrection:
Lord Jesus, light shining in the darkness, you lead your people into life, and give our mortal nature the gift of holiness,
—may we spend this day in praise of your glory.
You laid death low, and brought us new life,
—grant that we may walk today in this new life.
—may we always feed on the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Light, new life, feeding on sincerity and truth: these are specific gifts of the Risen Christ. They take the pressure off our own efforts; they let us bask in the gifts. These are gifts that fundamentally change our lives, so it’s not that we just bask in their warmth while surfing the web or reading a novel.
No, we are radically changed—into people of the light. How this plays out in concrete ways is the focus of some of the other intercessory prayers in the book:
At the lakeside you prepared bread and fish for your disciples,
—grant that we may never allow others to die of hunger.
Remember the lonely, the orphaned and the widowed,
—and do not abandon those who have been reconciled with you by the death of your Son.
You make all things new, and command us to wait and watch for your kingdom,
—grant that the more we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the more we may seek to better this present world.
These three prayers are close to Lenten prayers, reminding us to help those hurting in our world. Close, but not the same. Lent focuses on our own efforts. But these Easter Season prayers focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus as the source of whatever good we can do for others. I find this a great relief; I can’t get enough of it.
I know that it’s said of Christians that we are “an Easter people.” This means that all year long we live in the newness of life brought about by Christ’s resurrection. Yes, but could we do this without the Easter season’s intensity of focus on this truth of our faith?
I wonder now if I could. The Easter season has become so enlivening for me. I don’t want it to end.
Peggy Rosenthal writes widely on poetry as a spiritual resource. Her books include Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times (Franciscan Media), and The Poets’ Jesus (Oxford). See Amazon for a full list. She also teaches an online course, “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice,” through Image’s Glen Online program.
Above image by ElfieTakesPictures, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.