I anticipate tomorrow morning. People flowing from all over — this great throng of the faithful merging into one to celebrate Easter.
Easter is upon us, and I’m not ready.
We’ve barely gotten into Lent, and here it is Easter already. I suppose that reflects the playful nature of God: “Ready or not, here I come.” If God waited until I was ready, he would have an impossible wait.
Easter is a joyous season. The flourishing spring helps set the mood. In fact, I find it much easier to flow with the rhythms of spring, with the dance of cherry blossoms and swelling magnolias than I do with the ultimate reality of the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
By the Paschal Mystery, we mean the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The mystery of God-made-flesh being crucified for us explodes beyond comprehension. It’s both too awful and too glorious for words. It’s too sorrowful to comprehend. It’s too deep to grasp.
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French philosopher Gabriel Marcel’s adage that “life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved” helps, but it seems rather glib. Too easy of a label. It protects me, rather than allows me to enter into the very mystery of God as mystery — that is beyond human comprehension.
Pondering the Scriptures illumines the pathway, but that’s not an easy way either. In the Gospel stories about the Resurrection, I see confusion, joy tinged with disbelief, fear and terror overcoming the followers of Jesus.
When faithful women come to the tomb after the Sabbath day to anoint the body of the crucified Jesus, they see a “young man, dressed in a white robe,” and they are alarmed. “Do not be alarmed,” he says. “Go, tell the disciples and Peter” that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified has been raised. Then they “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.” (Mark 16:6-7)
I get that. It’s all very frightening to encounter God face to face, and I’m not ready. It’s too terrifying. Couldn’t we wait awhile? How about another six weeks of Lent?
The poet-farmer Wendell Berry suggests we clog our openness to God with lots of stuff: “Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. … and not even your future will be a mystery any more.”
Berry offers an alternative, we can practice the unpredictable: “Every day do something that won’t compute. … Give your approval to all you cannot understand. … Ask the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. … Laugh. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. … Practice resurrection. … ” from “The Country of Marriage.”
So I’m edging closer to Easter. Maybe Lent was long enough after all.
I anticipate Sunday morning. People flowing from all over the city and from every rural hamlet, from out of the woods and from the islands by urgent ferry — this great throng of the faithful merging into one to celebrate Easter.
The churches will be packed long before the liturgy starts. We know something is about to happen, but we dare not say what. We wait — expectantly. The organ begins. It shakes the vast expanse with its powerful vibrato. Our hearts swell, and we grow ever more expectant on hearing the ancient hymn, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalms 27:14)
And then in the reading of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread, we know. That tremor in our hearts was something else. It was a quaking, but it was not fear at all. It was the Lord. It was the Lord God in glory!
“Our hearts were burning within us as he opened the Scriptures to us.” (Luke 24:32)
And then as one, we lose ourselves in the hymn of praise:
Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Fr. Patrick Howell SJ is the rector (religious superior) of the Jesuit Community at Seattle University and professor of pastoral theology. Readers may send feedback to email@example.com.