“What are you doing for Lent this year?”
I asked students in my youth ministry program to think about it last month, and we talked about ways we could truly live the season. There was a lot of discussion about giving things up: technology, certain foods, picking on a younger brother or sister. Some mentioned collecting money for Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl, and others expressed a hope to pray or attend Mass more. I was surprised and impressed at the level of commitment from many of those who responded. Giving up Facebook or video games is not a small challenge for our tech-centered generation. But there they were, getting into the spirit of the season in an intentional way, thinking about ways to incorporate the Lenten practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving into their lives.
These students mirror the wider church, as I’ve seen it: We do Lent really well. Parish offerings are plentiful, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday pack churches, folks give things up and stick to it. The season and its multitude of tangible reminders (those ashes and palms; no meat on Friday; no “alleluia”; purple everywhere) make it hard to forget it’s a special time of year.
Flash forward to Holy Week. On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I saw some students at church.
“What are you doing for Easter this year?” I asked.
I wanted to know where they were going or what they were doing on Sunday, and that’s what they told me. Visiting with family, having people over, doing homework.
Sometime on Easter Monday, I caught myself comparing those two respective questions about Lent and Easter. “What are you doing for Lent?” is a probing spiritual question. It requires a 40-day answer, and implies action and discipline.
“What are you doing for Easter?” is a polite piece of small talk. It has to do with one day’s plans. We celebrate with a bang, and then it’s “almost summer” time, and things begin to wind down.
It’s easy to forget that Easter is a 50-day season, 10 days longer than the Lenten marathon. It’s the most important season we have; we’re an Easter people, after all, not a Lenten people.
I think it’s time for us to step up and live the Easter season with the same energy we bring to Lent.
So, inspired by our triad of Lenten practices, I humbly suggest three Easter practices that one might try from now through Pentecost.
Lent is a time of fasting, but we do not fast for fasting’s sake. We fast so that we might be ready to welcome and celebrate the risen Christ at Easter and throughout the season in a special way. We fast so we can feast! So, take some time to intentionally feast this Easter. Call a friend you haven’t spoken with for a while. Have a picnic. Fly a kite. Play hopscotch. Do something new and creative that celebrates life and brings joy to the world. You get the idea.
So many of my favorite moments involve singing somehow. Blasting and singing along with “Born to Run” on the car radio with the windows down. A sing-along around a fire on a summer night. That first “alleluia” at the Easter Vigil. (This year’s installment at my parish was especially festive: incense-disturbed fire alarms got in on the action, beginning and ending their bombast in perfect time with the acclamation.) One of my favorite theologians Walter Brueggemann points to Isaiah 42:10 as a key moment in Scripture: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” After the quiet grief of Lent and Good Friday, the victory of life over death energizes us to be able to sing again. So sing out especially loudly at Mass, and find other times to sing.
3) Bringing Easter Joy to Others
The Road to Emmaus is one of my favorite Easter stories. Soon after the resurrection, an unrecognized Jesus walks along the road with a pair of his disciples, chatting with them and breaking open the Scriptures. The conversation is going so well the disciples invite Jesus to have dinner with them. When he blesses and breaks the bread at dinner, the disciples realize who is with them, and he instantly vanishes. So excited at having encountered the risen Christ, the disciples book it back to Jerusalem on foot, which was seven miles away, to let the apostles know – minutes after they had just completed their first hike of the day. Fourteen clicks in one day isn’t too shabby, by any century’s standards. What a force for good and love it would be if we could somehow channel that same Easter excitement. There are so many places in the world where the joy of the risen Lord is obscured by persistent darkness, and so many people who could use a loving gesture that brings new life. Spend some time in Easter as an instrument of God’s compassion in one of these places of suffering.
There are about 40 days left until Pentecost – that’s plenty of time to get moving.
So, what are you doing for Easter this year?