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There’s only one way to celebrate Easter, and the early Christians knew it

JESUS WITH APOSTLES
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Jesus was a living, redeeming, actual Presence among them.

When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed.
He said to them, “Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.

—Mark 16:4-6

Have you ever had an experience so powerful, so beautiful, or so tragic that you haven’t been able to find a way to tell the story of what happened or even to describe your own feelings? Sometimes, especially in the most important moments of life, words fail.

These limitations of language can also keep us from fully articulating truth, beauty, and goodness of God. I think anyone who has tried to express what it is that we celebrate in these days of the Paschal Triduum and Easter understands how frustrating those limits can be.

These limits of language—and even of art and ritual—were not news to the Early Church. They also struggled to understand and express everything that happened that weekend in Jerusalem. Because of this, their experience of Easter wasn’t enshrined in abstract philosophies or complicated doctrines (those would come later). Instead, they proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus by the way they lived their lives.

Rather than passively remembering Christ and the mysteries of his life, they experienced him: Jesus was a living, redeeming, actual Presence among them. And those first Christians proclaimed (sometimes at their own peril): “Christ lives in me!” They understood that the only way to truly celebrate the mystery of Easter was to live Christ.

Although the Gospel accounts of that first Easter morning might lead us to believe otherwise, Sacred Scripture indicates that, in many ways, the Resurrection was a private event. As Henri Nouwen observed in The Road to Daybreak, there was nothing in the Resurrection that would force people to believe:

It was an event for the friends of Jesus, for those who had known him, listened to him, and believed in him. It was a very intimate event: a word here, a gesture there, and a gradual awareness that something new was being born—small, hardly noticed, but with the potential to change the face of the earth. Mary Magdalene heard her name. John and Peter saw the empty grave. Jesus’ friends felt their hearts burn in encounters that find expression in the remarkable words: ‘He is risen.’ All had remained the same, while all had changed.

With all this in mind, it isn’t by chance that Church has chosen to read the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter Season. Luke’s chronicle of the work of Peter and the Apostles in Jerusalem, of the death of Stephen, and of the missionary efforts of Paul, Barnabas, and Silas is an extended commentary on how the Resurrection had changed the lives of Jesus’ followers and of how the faith, hope, and love of those believing men and women began to spread like a fire. They carried light into the darkest places of the human experience—just like the light of Jesus’ love had illuminated the dark places of their own hearts and minds. They didn’t have everything figured out and theirs was an imperfect, all-too-human faith, but their Easter experience empowered them to proclaim that Jesus was truly alive and still at work in their lives and in the mission of the Church.  

We have been re-created for love, for joy, for zeal, and for gratitude. We have been granted the freedom to be truly alive. And, like the first Christians, we are being invited to unpack that experience, discerning the grace of the Resurrection in the many little miracles of our day-to-day lives.  

How can you use the 50 days of the Easter Season to enter deeper into the Resurrection life we celebrate on Easter Sunday?

Reflect on your experiences during Lent and the renewal of your baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. How have you grown as a disciple of Jesus?

Words of Wisdom: “There is no poetry about it. Instead, it is simply proclaimed as a fact. Christ is Risen! In fact, the very existence of the New Testament itself proclaims it. Unless something very real indeed took place on that strange, confused morning, there would be no New Testament, no Church, no Christianity.”—Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

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