March 30, 2024 // Perspective

May We Never Forget: We Are an Easter People

“But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious. O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.”

Illuminated by the light of the Easter candle, which is the symbolic presentation of the Light that is Christ in risen glory, we gather to celebrate Easter Sunday, and the Church does this both at night and “at dawn” – in the morning of Easter. How fitting for our Gospel reading, Mary too came to the tomb while it was still dark to discover it empty. And this aspect of the celebration is worth reflecting on, because it cuts to the heart of the logic behind the Church’s yearly commemoration of the Lord’s Paschal Triduum. These ritual celebrations are not mere retellings of the story but a ritual initiation into the very mystery they celebrate.

This is a tradition of Moses – the annual Passover meal that keeps the memory of the Passover event alive in the hearts of the Jewish people. But not only does it keep the memory alive, the ritual itself serves to initiate and remind each Jew of his or her deepest identity within the people God has chosen.

So, the Seder meal was celebrated wherein the young children were to ask the adults, “Why are we doing this?” and the question – posed in the present plural tense – was answered in the present plural “we/us”: “God saved us from slavery in Egypt. God has given us the Promised Land.

So, too, for us Christians, the overwhelming mystery we have celebrated the last three days is not only a proclamation of its saving action in history but is an initiation – for us all, each time it is celebrated – into the us that is the Church: the holy People of God. The us who have been saved from slavery to sin and death and the us who have become adopted sons and daughters of God.

And so we fittingly gather, having kept vigil with the Lord in His triumph against death, to join the us that is Mary, John, and Peter running to the tomb, while it was still dark. We stand in the midst of the Church knowing that the Lord has been risen, that Mary will soon mistake Him for a gardener. That, as the Sequence proclaims: “Speak, Mary, declaring what you saw, wayfaring. ‘The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection; Bright angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting. Yes, Christ my hope is arisen; to Galilee He goes before you.’ Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning! Amen. Alleluia.” Yet, we must keep the memory of the “in between time” – this time of the darkness when the only certainty we have is that of Jesus’s promise that He would rise.

In that communal memory of the night when all that is left is faith in God’s Word, we grow in trust. We grow in the hope of the Resurrection, the accomplished work of God that redeems the world and offers humanity a hope beyond what it ever could have imagined.

The Triduum itself is like its own ritual Christian novitiate – the time of incorporation into the religious community and its identity. In this novitiate, each one of us needs a yearly renewal – a yearly ritual reminder of our own need for redemption – and an experience of the saving action of God in our lives. God has died, for us. God has given His body and blood to us. God has been raised from the dead and comes now to offer us this new life. These are not past events but present ones – more present to us than mere memory.

And the dawn has now broken. The darkness of doubt and tottering faith is now overcome with the light of the Rising Son. He comes to us this Easter, wounds still intact, calling us tenderly by name.

May the Easter Eucharist in which we receive the Risen Lord strengthen us to remember our deepest identity as children of God, to remember in the midst of the trials and challenges that will come this year what God has done for us – for each one of us, and for each person we encounter (be they rich or poor, clothed or naked, or even a fellow Christian).

The tomb is empty, the victory won. God has triumphed against death – we have been saved. In this new time of grace – in the joys and challenges that come – may we not forget.

Father Mark Hellinger is Parochial Vicar at St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Wayne.

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