One of my favorite moments of the entire year is the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. As brass or bells fulfill the Exsultet’s command, “Let this holy building shake with joy,” the lights in the dark church finally flicker on. We become like those prisoners in Plato’s cave, not blinded by images of the forms, but by Love himself, who shatters Hell’s black gates with his marvelous light.
In that moment, all the struggle of Lent is forgotten. Life’s sorrow is shrouded in beauty as the liturgy offers a foretaste of the beatific vision.
But if Easter is the culmination of not only the liturgical year but our entire existence, why do we limit its celebration to one long Mass and a few jelly bean frenzies on Sunday? Parishes, families and schools work tirelessly to edify and encourage the faithful in their six-week trek up Calvary. But we seem to forget that although there are 40 days of Lent, there are 50 days in the Easter season.
One reason for the struggle to observe Easter is that the Resurrection’s triumph is more enigmatic than Lent’s mortification. In the words of a profound philosophic work from 1987, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Of course, the science of the cross is far more profound and hopeful than this perspective on suffering. But the point remains that we have all experienced suffering, from bruised toenails to battered hearts. However the resurrection remains in obscurity for much of our current experience. I can’t speak for others, but I have never witnessed a corpse’s veins begin to pulse once more.
But although there is a natural tendency to shrink before the unknown, the Church invites us to just the opposite. The octave of Easter, in which Easter Sunday spans a full eight days, is one of the most tender acts of Mother Church. It is true that the Resurrection is too wondrous for human experience to fathom. But this doesn’t mean that we should run back to that moment before the Gloria when we were drowsy in the dim-lit, un-tabernacled sanctuary.
Matthew’s resurrection account describes Mary Magdalene and the other Mary running from the empty tomb “fearful yet overjoyed.” This mingling of fear and joy is the posture to which we are also invited in the Easter season.
The capacity to sit in fear and joy is not only crucial for contemplating the Faith, but for understanding the human person. Vice and love, futility and strength, knowledge and imbecility, are all wrapped up in every person zipping down I-35 and in line at Kroger.
In seeking to know himself, man discovers a finite heart with infinite desires. Every tear and laugh stems from a person who is an utter mystery even to himself.
However, self-knowledge is critical for growth in holiness and love. We have to be willing to take all of the trepidation and hope within our persons to the risen Christ.
Similarly, in our relationships with friends and family members we must strive to behold the person who stands before us as an utter mystery. The resurrection cannot be stuffed into an Easter basket. Neither can the Imago Dei be squished into a personality type or puzzle to solve.
Through the Church’s sustained attention to the mystery of the resurrection, she teaches her children to live in a wonder that does not run from the unknown, but embraces it with gladness. She directs us to see our lives in a new flood of beauty, not afraid of the weakness in ourselves and others, but with joyful trembling before every person, restored by Christ’s glorified wounds.