By John Kass
April 17, 2022
Usually at Eastertime, I find myself writing about the turning of the lamb over coals. And about Pesach, the Hebrew word for the Jewish Passover, and of Pascha, the Greek word for Easter
There will be time enough for the Paschal Lamb, the Easter Lamb. Maybe next week. But not now. Not today.
Because today, our brothers and sisters of the Western Christian world celebrate Holy Easter. Today is their day for great joy.
And whether you’re a Christian of the East, and Greek Orthodox are of the East and celebrate next Sunday, or a Christian of the West, as Roman Catholics and Protestants are of the West, celebrating today, please remember what a wise man, a saint, said years ago:
We’re one body in Christ, said the late Pope John Paul II.
Two lungs, one body, he said.
“I hope you write about Easter on Sunday,” said a friend who’d just returned home from church with his wife. “On Easter, we refresh ourselves. We renew ourselves.”
He is a practicing Catholic, a husband and father, a tough-minded but compassionate old school guy from the South Side of Chicago.
“As we get together with our families and friends on Easter Sunday, it’s all about renewal,” he said. “It’s all about faith, family and love. Everybody needs faith, family and love. And those who don’t have it, want it. We all need it. What’s wrong with that?”
Nothing is wrong with it. Absolutely nothing. Everything is right with it.
And as we celebrate, we gather with family and friends to share the joy, we also pray for the people of Ukraine and for others who are suffering elsewhere in the world, in places we hardly hear very much about. And for the congregation of the landmark Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. The church burned in a fire on Good Friday and embers reignited in the old roof on Saturday.
“If we’ve to lose something, losing it on good Friday is the best time to lose it because after Good Friday comes resurrection Sunday,” Pastor Gerald Dew told NBC 5 Chicago, offering a message to his congregation. “God has something better for all us that love and belong to the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. I love you, you are in my prayers.”
At many homes after church on Sunday, there will be gatherings. If you’re lucky, you may be seated at a dinner table with several generations, and tell family stories across those generations. And you might be blessed with children at the table to hear those stories and share the laughter for the first time.
And if there are kids around, there might be mention of peeps.
Nothing wrong with peeps. I’m not anti-peep. Parents and grandparents like peeps because kids like peeps. But is Easter really about the peeps? Is Easter about the Easter Bunny? I suppose that if you were a visitor from another planet–and you were watching cable news–chances are you might think Easter Sunday is all about clothes, and hats, and the Easter Bunny and peeps. But I don’t think so.
It’s not about the feast. Yes, we try to make it a special meal because of the day, the most special day in the Christian world. But the meal doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could just be bread and wine. Jesus didn’t mind bread and wine, did he? The feast could be anything, an apple, some cheese, as long as it’s offered with a joyful heart, in Jesus’ name.
Christians prepare for Easter in many ways. Some of us prepare through 40 days of prayer and fasting during Lent. Not all of us. But some of us. For me, those 40 days are difficult, and what’s difficult isn’t about giving something up or refraining from this food or that food. It’s only food.
What’s difficult about it for me is that I always seem to stumble and fail, wishing I were the Christian I hoped to be. At night, staring at the ceiling, I count my sins and become discouraged. I’ve blamed the work I’ve chosen, and the snarling dogs of politics that come with the work. I’ve blamed many things for distracting me in the long weeks before Easter. But I know these are excuses.
My priest is a good man. He thinks I should ease up on myself and think of Lent as being all about love. But then why is Lent so difficult? I’m no theologian, but I don’t think Christianity was ever meant to be easy.
There are always signs of hope. As I typed this last night, I talked to a friend. He is married and they have two sons. He’s also a practicing Catholic and he lives the Christian life. He is always positive, always kind to others. He doesn’t talk theology. He leads me by example. His kindness to others is a light, a sign.
And on Easter Sunday, you may see other signs. The grass, once brown, is now a deep green. There are buds on the rose bushes, and on the trees. You might see a redwing blackbird on a branch in the backyard, or a mating pair of cardinals.
And at church you witness the renewal of souls. You see the joy on the faces of the choir, the congregation, joy on the faces of the priest or pastor. It surpasses those mountains of wrapped presents under the decorated fir tree in December.
Who needs other presents when He is the gift?
On Sunday, perhaps some of you might think of the early Christians, frightened, coming together in those darkened catacombs, persecuted by the Roman Emperors and sent into the arena. And Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted Christians, but then found light on his road to Damascus and became St. Paul.
Years ago, I was fortunate to walk through Ephesus on the Western shores of modern-day Turkey where St. Paul preached. The ancient city was empty. No tourists, just a boy selling pomegranate. We’d been walking and were thirsty. The boy lopped the pomegranates with a long knife, put the halves into a juicer, pulled the handle down and offered a glass.
Standing on those old stones, thinking of Ephesus as it had been, of Paul preaching, of his letters that framed Christianity. The taste of the dark red pomegranate was refreshing and achingly sweet.
Several miles away was the little stone house where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived her last years and died. There was a great crowd of pilgrims outside, praying quietly. The women covered their heads with scarves.
Remembering the sound of those prayers still calms my soul, and on those nights when I count my sins, I’ll think of Mary, the gentle Mother of God who so loves the world.
On Easter, whether this Sunday or the next, we’ll think of what happened after the crucifixion, when the women visited Christ’s tomb to anoint his body. They wondered how they might accomplish this with the great stone blocking the doorway of the tomb.
But when they arrived, the stone had been rolled away. His tomb was open. According to the gospels, when the women entered, there was a young man there, sitting in the tomb alone, dressed all in white.
“Be not afraid,” the young man in white told them, “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is not here. He is risen. Behold the place where they laid him.”
Easter isn’t about the peeps or the food or the bunny. It isn’t about any of that. For Christians, the blessing and joy of Easter is about only one thing:
Be not afraid. Christ is risen!
All He asks is for us to follow him, to know that He is the truth and the life, that we love one another in peace.
To all those who celebrate today, and to those who do not, have a blessed and joy-filled day with your family and friends and faith.
He is risen.
(Copyright 2022 John Kass)