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Easter: opening to new life in unanticipated ways

By Tom Ryan, CSP

Happy Easter! We extend this wish to each other on Easter Sunday, and yet Easter is much more than a single celebration. Easter is so important that we cannot celebrate it in just one day.

To fully celebrate the Easter season it takes fifty days, or a Pentecost (the Greek word for 50). And each one of these 50 days, in fact is Easter. That is why the church speaks of the Sundays of Easter, rather than the Sundays after Easter.

The Gospel reading on Easter Sunday just gets us started in describing Mary Magdalene’s going to the tomb with the words: “Early in the morning on that first day of the week, while it was still dark . . .”

The Gospel writers want to make the point that something new is happening. There’s a fresh start. It’s “the first day of the week” and the sun (read Son) is rising. It’s another way of saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

For death and resurrection are not separate from life. They are not just future. They are present. To look upon the resurrection as a narrow escape from death is to miss the full meaning of human life, to miss the death and resurrection that are present in every moment. It is reflected in the coming and going of the seasons, in the rhythm of our relationships, in the loss of things that we have relied upon and become attached to.

Whenever we are faced in any way with a form of “dying” or letting go, the Paschal Mystery of Christ is there to shape our perception of what is happening and give an affirming stamp to our hope that out of this “death” will come new life and growth.

Being a disciple of Christ involves living out of this paradox and allowing it to serve as a special pair of lenses that enable us to see the nature of all reality. To see this mystery at play in the seasons of the year and the stages of our lives. No dying, no new life. No emptying or letting go, no being filled.

The upcoming cessation of the Prairie Messenger’s publication, a newspaper we have all relied upon, will be an occasion for our spiritual practice in letting go with trust that what is needed will be given, albeit in a new form.

Having written articles for it over the past 35 years, I have to admit that I’ve become attached to its overall superb coverage of regional, national, and international church-related events. Even when I moved from Canada to the U.S. at my religious community’s call, I’ve continued to rely on the PM to keep me up to date, and it’s the only church newspaper I read on a weekly basis. No longer receiving it will truly be a “letting go, ”a “dying.”

And what does the Easter mystery say to us about that? It reminds us that we are engaged in daily rehearsals for our grand finale. It reminds us that death and resurrection are not separate from life, are not to be seen as ultimate events but as immediate experiences. They are every step of the journey from this life to the next.

Whether its turning 21, 40, 65, or 80. Whether it’s losing our health or our hair, our money or our memory, a person we love or a publication that we prize. We must not cling to what once was but is no more.

Wherever or whatever or with whomever we’ve been, we have to move on. And all moving on is a dying, a letting go. It’s the imprint of the Paschal Mystery on our lives. Only by dying will we rise to fresh life. Only by letting go of yesterday will we open ourselves to tomorrow, where the seeds of fresh life await us.

“Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark . . . ”

It’s important to grasp the context in which this statement is made. The disciples in this Easter story faced enormous loss, the slaughter of an intimate friend and leader, the crushing of a dream they shared with him. They had hoped that he would be the one to free Israel.

What is it in our own experience that enables us to relate to that, albeit in less profound and dramatic ways? The journey of Jesus’ disciples from perplexity and fear to amazement, new hope, liberation and joy, is the journey God intends for us.

The aim of the resurrection of Jesus is fulfilled when the experience of Jesus’ disciples becomes our own: the experience of Jesus’ continuing, empowering presence moving us toward new hope, new beginnings, new life.

The Risen One deeply desires that this truly be for us a new day, a whole new season, with new realizations and possibilities. The “first day of the week” is an analogy for the first day of the rest of our lives.

Let us go forward with confidence and trust that every “letting go,” every dying — whether little or big — if embraced with faith, will lead us to new and fuller life in unanticipated ways.

Ryan directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Boston.