The past 12 months have left us with little cause for celebration. Between social distancing, quarantining, nearly 3 million COVID deaths, and other tragedies both public and private, mourning has seemed more our style. For many of us, then, the readings for Easter Sunday send a jarring message: This is a cause for a celebration!
In theory, the Catholic practice of Lenten sacrifice makes celebrating Easter easier. If we have given up certain pleasantries, then we can approach Easter with a keen anticipation of once again enjoying the things we have temporarily set aside. We can feel a palpable sense of excitement that tracks with the excitement of our faith. This is quite appropriate, for we have a true victory not merely to commemorate but also to celebrate today.
Yet what does it mean, in practical terms, to celebrate the Resurrection as our faith would demand?
The answer, I think, can be found in the readings for today, starting with the Responsorial Psalm. “This is the day the Lord has made,” our shared response proclaims, “Let us rejoice and be glad!” And so we should, first and foremost by embodying that joy in our efforts to live out our faith.
This is certainly consistent with the way those who first encountered the Risen Christ reacted. For instance, everyone witnessing or hearing about the empty tomb in the reading from John’s Gospel this Sunday was so stirred by the experience that they ran to share the news or to see the spot for themselves.
We cannot run to the empty tomb now, but we can model our response to the event of the Resurrection with a recognition of our analogous role. Reflecting on the experience described in the Gospel reading, Peter later explained to the crowds that those who were “chosen by God” to be witnesses to the Resurrection were “commissioned…to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God.”
In essence, he was explaining the fundamental call that all Christians share, which is to witness to the faith that inspires us. This, of course, is something we can do with great joy.
Pope Francis, in one of his earliest papal documents, Evangelii Gaudium, stressed that the line from evangelization (witnessing) to joy is always supposed to be a direct and unbreakable one. “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts of all who encounter Jesus” (no. 1), he insisted, inspiring all those who know the truth of Easter to become “people who wish to share their joy” (no. 14). After all, he maintained, “it is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (no. 14).
The message, then, is to be inspired by the life of faith that the Resurrection makes possible. God has won the victory over death, but even more importantly, over sin. As a result, we are a free people, and if we have entered into Lent effectively, we will know it because we have taken the time to repent from our failures to bother to love.
Let us live out this faith, then, in our daily lives, committing ourselves ever more fully to a life filled with the love of God and love of neighbor at its center so that we can truly find joy in all that we do. If we can manage that, we will honor the joy of the Resurrection, and inspire others by our witness to the truth we confess this day: He is Risen.
May our lives say, “Indeed.”