Easter hasn’t always been my favourite liturgical feast. I was like many others in that Christmas claimed the privileged spot in my affections. The symbols and celebration, the sentimentality of the nativity story complete with baby, the familiar songs carolled into the night, the bright lights and decorations embellishing every household, mysterious wrapped packages under the tree, and the unparalleled holiday feel of it all: Christmas was joy. It would be hard for anything to compete with all that Christmas brought to the table.
But, over the years, Easter has assumed its proper place in my heart as the ultimate Christian feast day. Undoubtedly the restoration of the Triduum with its powerful liturgies contributed greatly to this advancement. Replete with potent Scripture readings, a wealth of symbols and an abundance of ritual, together they make for an impressive immersive experience into salvation history.
Easter’s story begins at the beginning and moves through patriarchs and prophets, exile and kingdoms, promise and failure. We run the emotional gamut from shouting Hosanna in triumph, to standing anguished at a brutal execution, to wondering, bewildered, before an empty tomb. We go from one garden to another as the paradisiacal Eden gives way to suffering Gethsemane, which still is not the end of the story. The agony therein gives way to a final celebrated garden where a stone is rolled away and a gardener calls each of us by name. Thus begins the new and final chapter of God’s gracious saving activity.
All of this has shaped my love for Easter, but it is not the defining cause of it. The deep reason I love Easter is because of what God, in Christ, has done in the Easter event. I have come to appreciate that while the Incarnation is a profound gift that embraces all of creation with its grace, it is Easter which holds the glorious finale. “Death,” we can now cry along with Saint Paul, “where is your sting?” Therein lies the essence of the Good News.
This is not an abstract idea for me. My passionate appreciation for Easter has come through early, hard experiences of loss and death. The first was when I was age 16 and my family was hit with the irrevocable, overwhelming grief of losing our 42-year-old father to suicide. Like a young Alice, I fell through the rabbit hole and life took on a strange and unwelcome shape. A new “normal” of sadness took over and everything was changed. A short five years later, the second derailment occurred when my eighteen-year-old brother was killed in a late-night car accident. Blasted into sorrow, buried in grief, I angrily turned away from a God who could allow such tragedies, and abandoned a faith that failed to protect.
But strangely enough, God did not abandon me and while I wandered through the valley of death for almost 10 years, it seems I was still held in love. It took shape in the compassionate people who surrounded me, continued to speak words of hope and continually invited me back to God. Eventually, at a breaking point, I hesitantly turned to the faith I had forsaken, desperately seeking answers for the anguish that lay deep within.
I returned to eucharist and, for over a year, wept at every mass I attended. I prayed privately, in distress, beseeching a God whom I wasn’t even sure I believed in, to help me. I joined a Bible study group and was shocked to learn that it wasn’t necessary to believe literally in Adam and Eve; a lot had changed since my Catholic school days! I was intrigued, drawn in. Eventually I found my wandering way to a theology class where I was introduced to a God of love and compassion, who stops at nothing to save us. Feeling that here at last was something that offered answers to my ailing heart, I began to study and, as my misconceptions fell away, I fell in love with Christ and the God I was encountering.
It was, though, the Paschal Mystery that finally healed my heart. The revelation of the sheer extent of God’s love for humankind, caught as we are in sin and death, blew away the last vestiges of my resentment and hurt. Christ’s suffering, death and descent into hell spoke volumes to me about the suffering of my father, while the resurrection spoke of the healing embrace with which God embraced him. Years later, when I eventually reached the point of writing my master’s thesis in theology, it is not surprising that the topic I chose was “Revisiting Hell.” I felt both my father and I had been there existentially and that it was Christ who had reached in to bring us both out.
The Paschal Mystery: accompanied suffering, death overcome, resurrection into transformed, eternal life. Easter’s gifts are unparalleled. In popular imagination, the Easter Bunny and coloured eggs may not match Santa and a sack full of presents, but that’s OK. The two are intertwined. The unique gift of Jesus’ life, which begins with the Incarnation, and the consummation of that life in the Paschal Mystery, both elicit the same response from hearts awash in wonder and drenched in gratitude: Halleluiah!
Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.