A reflection by Chaplaincy Assistant Matthew Benson.
At the Easter Vigil, the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet) begins with three exhortations: “let the hosts of heaven exult”, “let earth be glad”, and “let Mother Church also rejoice.” The joy of Easter extends from heaven throughout the whole of creation, and especially to the people God has called for himself. The joy which comes from the Resurrection of Christ should be an infectious joy which we can share with others.
But for many people in today’s world, Easter is just a date on the civil calendar, marked by the eating of chocolate eggs and a bank holiday. And even as Christians we can find it difficult to enter into Easter joy. I think many Catholics – myself included – will have had the experience of disappointment at Easter at some point in our lives. Maybe we don’t feel we entered enough into the spirit of Lenten penance, or maybe we have things going on in our lives which bring us down, so when the Paschal Triduum comes and goes, we’re left feeling flat. We confess at Mass that Jesus “rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” – but how can we enter into a deeper understanding of how the Resurrection is transformative of us as human beings, and how can we convert that into infectious joy?
Easter joy begins with the acknowledgement of a brokenness in the universe. Because of the flawed exercise of human free will in history, we each begin our lives in a state of alienation from God, from ourselves and from one another – the Church calls this state of alienation ‘original sin', and it’s compounded by all the harm we do to ourselves and to our fellow creatures. As a result of this, the whole creation has been held throughout history in a state of captivity to sin, to death, and to demonic powers. The Gospel has captivated so many people because the beauty of the Saviour resonates with the hope of human beings for deliverance from the world of sin and death.
Across his letters, St Paul describes the Crucifixion and Resurrection as a drama which takes place at a cosmic scale, which touches us all as human beings. By his Crucifixion, Jesus bore the weight of our sins in an act of supreme love which shows the power and wisdom of God and puts right our relationship with God. In his letter to the Colossians, St Paul describes this as a “triumph” over the demonic powers of sin and death. The Resurrection, then, serves as the inauguration of the new creation. Jesus rose again in a glorified body, completing his defeat of sin and death which proved impotent to hold him in the grave. His Resurrection opens the way for our own resurrection at the end of time and shows us what the new creation will be like. Freed from corruption – from the phenomenon of sin which causes our suffering and our alienation as human beings – the whole creation will be united in Christ. Writing about this mystery in his First Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul taunts the powers of sin and death: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
In his Paschal Homily, St John Chrysostom stresses just how infectious our Easter joy should be. No-one should be left out, he says: however fruitfully or fruitlessly our Lenten season went for us, we should all share the joy of the Resurrection. Our human hope for deliverance from sin, suffering and death has been realised by Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. We live in a world where not only the Christian worldview is being forgotten, but even the basic realisation that the world we live in is not as it ought to be. It’s common to hear people saying they’ve not done anything wrong and have nothing to be sorry for; it’s just as common to see apathy about the violence, oppression, poverty and hate endemic to the world. Sometimes it’s hard to see how the Gospel will continue to spread under these conditions. But as long as we remind ourselves of Easter joy, and share it with others, at least we’ll pose these questions to the people around us: “What are these people so joyful about? Should I be joyful too?”