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Easter: The Church’s Season of New Life

Easter is a moveable feast. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring. On Easter Sunday, churches around the world break into joyful song and sing, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.” We fill our houses and lives with signs of joy and new life. Flowers and candles decorate our homes. Special foods such as Easter breads and colored eggs remind us that this is a life-giving feast. Throughout this day and for the next 50 days our celebration of the Easter season will continue until Pentecost.

The Lectionary
The lectionary readings during Easter focus on the Acts of the Apostles. These readings provide a brief history of the first Christians. The Gospel of John is also proclaimed during the Easter season. In this Gospel, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Paschal Candle
Throughout these 50 days, the paschal candle burns brightly at the side of the altar. The candle is a symbol of the Risen Body of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit. During the rest of the liturgical year the candle is kept near the baptismal font. It will be lit during all baptisms. The newly baptized light their baptism candle from the paschal candle. During funerals the candle is placed near the casket. In other words, the light of Easter shines on all aspects of life.

The Empty Tomb
In each of the four Gospels we hear that on Easter morning the tomb was empty. Mark 16:1-2 has Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bringing spices so that they might finish the burial ritual. As they walked toward the tomb they wondered who would help them roll back the huge stone. When they arrived at the tomb they were surprised to see that the stone had already been rolled back. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in white. They were utterly amazed when the young man told them that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised. Jesus has gone before you into Galilee and you will see him there. The women were seized with trembling bewilderment and were afraid to speak to anyone.

Matthew 28:1-10 adds a few details to this basic story. Matthew has a great earthquake and an angel descending from heaven and rolling back the stone. The angel’s clothing was white. Even the guards posted at the tomb were seized with fear. The angel told the women Jesus has been raised. Look at the place where he lay and go tell the disciples.

Luke 24:1-12 says the women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary of the mother o f James. They found the stone rolled back and entered the tomb. Two men in dazzling white garments appeared to them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. The two men announced that Jesus has been raised and is alive. They reminded the women that Jesus said that he would be raised on the third day. The women immediately went to tell the apostles. All the apostles except Peter thought the story of the women was nonsense. Peter alone ran to the tomb and saw the burial cloths. He was amazed at what had taken place.

John 20:1-10 tells that Mary Magdalene comes alone to the tomb while it was still dark, saw that the stone was rolled back, and ran to tell the apostles. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved raced to the tomb. When they got to the tomb, they saw the burial cloths. The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was in a separate place. They went into the tomb and believed. They were reminded of the Scripture that said Jesus would rise from the dead.

In all four Gospel accounts the reality of an empty tomb confronts the followers of Jesus. Their reactions range from shaking with fear to belief that Jesus is the Messiah. In all four accounts it is women who are charged with spreading the news that Jesus is alive.

We as modern believers also have to decide how we will respond to the news of Easter. Will we shake and tremble with fear? Or will we dismiss the story as nonsense and then ask for further proof and evidence? Or will we believe?

Pentecost
Can you think of a day when you felt as if you could do anything? What happened to make you feel that way? Did someone say something to you or give you a gift? The disciples knew a day like that. They received a great gift that made them feel strong in their belief in the Risen Lord. That day was Pentecost.

Fifty days after Jesus was raised from the dead the disciples were suddenly filled with enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm means filled with spirit or filled with God. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples just as Jesus had promised. On that first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought very different people together. Through faith and baptism they were joined with Jesus and one another. The Church was born and began the work of gathering all races and cultures to live together in peace and harmony. The Church continues that mission today and will continue until Jesus comes in glory at the end of time.

Indeed, the story of Pentecost is well-worth telling and re-telling. Our ears, minds, and hearts remind us that the feast of Pentecost has tremendous power. It impacts our lives and faith. It is a wide window that reflects many aspects of human experience, including joy, peace, grace, reconciliation conversion, and unity. The story of Pentecost is a story that guides our common spiritual pilgrimage. It is a story based on history and shaped by the Holy Spirit.



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