From the moment we arrived in church this Easter, I was reminded that there is something about an Easter service which never fails to lift one’s spirit and fill one’s heart with joy. It is such an unabashedly positive conclusion to such a sober three days (for a few more thoughts on those three days, see my first post, The Triduum). I believe this is due to a combination of the message of Easter and the explosion of flowers that always adorns the altar. And, let’s be honest, it never hurts when Easter falls in bright, warm April as it did this year. Somehow those bracing March Easters don’t quite rise to the occasion, when the myriad altar flowers couldn’t be more incongruous against that stiff wind numbing your face.
But perhaps most of all, I think there is something that appeals to us on a bedrock level about that unabashedly positive — indeed ecstatic — ending. That ending to those three days of hushed gloom, in which we are meant to remember what is wrong in life and mostly in ourselves. What appeals to us on a bedrock level is not just the joyful, celebratory nature of Easter itself. It is the fact that that joyful celebration arrives not just any time, but after what are symbolically, representatively, the darkest days of the world.
It need not even matter whether one is Christian and therefore believes in a larger significance to what happened on those particular days in history. What matters is what those days are meant to represent. They represent the darkest hour, for an individual human being or for humanity on a broad scale. It cannot be incidental that the celebration of bursting light comes immediately after the days when things could not be darker, could not be worse. This speaks profoundly to us as humans. We want, and in many cases ultimately believe, that such will be true for our own lives and our own obstacles. Surely the progression from darkest to brightest that is the message of Easter resonates with us on this one of many levels.
While I love the exuberant, kinetic character of Easter, it is Christmas that holds for me a kind of joyfulness of spirit that is surpassed by no other time on the calendar. The joy of Christmas is in some ways a sweeter, more innocent-feeling, less wild kind of joy — but in no way lesser in impact. It is the charming, encumbered-by-nothing kind of joy that has to do with a little child bringing a message that at its basic level is just love and happiness, pure and simple. No strings, no ifs and maybes. Just love and happiness.
Yet even here, if we are reading Luke’s Gospel, we can detect a similarity to the post-Triduum arrival of Easter in that Joseph and Mary are in peril. They are away from home in a stable, with no human assistance, for a potentially life-threatening event. Luke would have had his own reasons for portraying those details in that particular way, as would have Matthew when he recorded a different peril in the threat of Herod to the child. But the charm, sweetness, and laughing joy of the Christmas event (and everything it can signify) will not be denied. There is nothing that exactly matches what I feel at the Christmas Eve service. The greens, the countless sparkling lights, the leaping candles, the red bows, the winter’s cold, the sense of a whole community in joyous anticipation. All of them together encapsulate for me that boundless and unrestricted Sublime. And that delight at a splendidly felicitous event, even in the awareness that peril exists in the world, is what Christmas shares with Easter.
But this was Easter. The flowers and the colors and the cathartic exuberance of the impossible fulfilled. Shine I knew it would, and shine it surely did.
© Elizabeth L. Keck 2010