What does it really mean to “celebrate Easter”?
For most ‘good’ Christians it means to go to confession and receive holy communion on Easter Sunday or thereby. It means to observe the second Precept of the church (‘You shall go to confession once a year’) and the third Precept (‘You shall receive the sacrament of the eucharist during Easter season’). If you do that, you have done your duty, you are truly observant: don done. Now you may sit and blow. Easter for the average ‘good’ catholic does not imply moving, changing, rising to a new life, so that most people find themselves in the usual ‘spiritual’ Egypt.
To answer that first question, let us try to answer three other questions that should come first:
1. What did it mean for the Israelites, in Egypt, to celebrate Easter?
2. What did it mean for Jesus?
3. What does it mean for us today?
Let us try to answer according to what we read in the Bible.
1. The Jewish Easter/Passover meant:
- Killing and sharing a lamb by eating it
- Marking the door with the blood of the lamb in order to be spared
- Exodus of the whole people: passing from slavery to freedom, in
order to serve God and belong to him.
So there is the celebration of a ritual and an ‘exodus’ (an interior transformation).
2. What did it mean for Jesus to celebrate Easter?
Jesus celebrated Easter many times according to the Jewish tradition: offering the lamb, sharing it, praying, singing, remembering the liberation from Egypt. A few days before his death, Jesus did celebrate the Jewish Easter, but at the end of the ritual he did something new and extraordinary: he introduced a new way to celebrate Easter: “He took bread… took a cup of wine… thanked… blessed and said: Take, eat… Take, drink… This is my body… This is the cup of my blood… Do this in memory of me”.
Then, to make these words be what they meant, i.e. to show that this was a real giving of self, he passed through the passion and death, towards a new life. He passed from this world to the Father (John 13,1).
So Jesus, too: celebrated a ritual, a new ritual;
offered himself in place of the lamb;
made an exodus/a passage through his passion and death;
in order to attain a glorious life for himself and all those who would believe in him.
3. What does it mean for us today to celebrate Easter in a real way?
It means surely to celebrate a ritual, several rituals in fact: the ashes, baptism or renewal of its vows, penance, eucharist… But we cannot stop there.
We, too, need to make an exodus, a passage, to give Easter its full truth and meaning.
Easter means “passage”, the early Christians used to say. It means a real movement of conversion:
Passage from I/ego to God;
“ from Me to My neighbor, my brothers, my sisters;
“ from spiritual slavery to inner freedom;
“ from a sinful state to a life of grace (God’s life)
“ from restlessness to joy.
Easter means interior transformation, it means opening the hearts and minds to God (John Paul II). Real Easter can only follow a good, active, generous period of lent.
How many Christians have never really celebrated Easter in their life?