Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The mystery of Eastertide

Now that we are part all of the elaborate ceremonies of Holy Week, I thought it might be a good time to reflect a little on some of the lessons of the season.

Easter and its octave is a time for feasting, to make up for that long fast - every day this week is a first class feast! And although some of that can take the form of eating good things, and relaxing a little in line with the more relaxed nature of the Divine Office this week (albeit more so in in the Roman Rite with its truncated Matins than the monastic Office), some of it should be spiritual feasting as well! One way of doing that is to meditate on the texts set for the mass each day this week.

In the early Church of course, the newly baptized wore their white robes for the week, and received further instruction on the mysteries of the faith that they hadn't previously been fully exposed to. The selection of texts goes to some of the themes they would have been instructed on. These days we could pretty much all do with a bit of a refresher, so I thought I might do a little series on a few key issues! But first, a few reflections on the nature of this week.

The importance of Easter

Easter is the most important feast of the year in the Christian calendar, a fact marked by the long preparation for it, in the form of Lent and Holy Week, and also its prolonged celebration, in the form of the Octave of Easter, which we are now enjoying!

Yet it remains I think, even for us today a difficult feast to celebrate. On the one hand, we get extremist behaviour, such as those who, for whatever reason, have themselves nailed to a cross in the Philippines. On the other hand, we get buried in a morass of schmaltzy attempts to soften the harshness of the symbols through an everlasting supply of hot cross buns (which started appearing in the shops this year even before Lent began!) and chocolate.

Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of Our Lord, is in most ways easier to grasp. From the time of the birth of Our Lord, history, which had in some respects been stuck in an endless circle, starts running forward again. In the Old Testaments, we are presented with numerous 'types' of Our Lord - in the New Testament however they are fulfilled.

Still, celebrating the birth of a child is much easier for us I think than contemplating the suffering and death of Our Lord, for the cross remains ever a sign of contradiction. And although the resurrection is crucial to our faith - as St Paul points out, without it, our faith is in vain - it is hard to grasp, hard to accept, as the experience of those first apostles reminds us.
Yet the Resurrection is vital, because it is the source of our hope, orienting us to our own desired future, and the future of the whole world, to the Second Coming when the New Heaven and Earth will descend.

After the resurrection

All the same, it is rather salutary I think to read the description of this period of the Church as described in Luke, St Paul and Acts. Throughout Holy Week the apostles consistently showed that they didn't 'get it', despite three years of instruction by Our Lord. The inner circle of Peter, James and John kept falling asleep while Our Lord was in agony in the garden. St Peter struggled when confronted with the lesson of service and humility that Our Lord tried to teach them when he washed the feet of the disciples. After Our Lord was arrested, the disciples first fought, then fled, and proceeded to deny him.

And even after receiving reports of the resurrection, they continued to be dispirited and sceptical. When he appeared to them, they generally either failed to recognize him, or were troubled and frightened. At each appearance they had to be convinced that it really was Jesus, and he really was there physically, and not just as a vision. It is a scepticism which many today share, and thus to us a reminder of the importance of not being doubting Thomas'!

In this period, too, the disciples have not yet been transformed through the gift of the Holy Ghost into the fervent and convinced apostles that will go out and convert the world. Yet it is clear that they experienced great moments of intensity and, at last, comprehension: at yesterday's Mass, for example, we read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, whose hearts were burning within them while Jesus explained the Scriptures to them; today's mass has a similar story of Jesus appearing to a group of disciples and explaining why he had to suffer from the 'law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the psalms'.

So this is a good week to take a little time to meditate on the texts of the mass set for each day, or on some of those texts which foreshadowed the suffering of Our Lord, so that we can truly understand why we rejoice in the resurrection.

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