“What are you doing for Lent?”
A few years ago, when I was a parish youth minister, I asked the students to think about ways they 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’ Rice Bowl, and others expressed a hope to pray or attend Mass more. I was impressed by 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 mirrored the wider church: We do Lent really well. Parish offerings are plentiful, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday pack churches, people 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.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday that year, I saw some students at the parish.
“What are you doing for Easter?” 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, eating a big meal, doing homework.
A few days later, 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 well, 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.
What would it look like if we committed ourselves to the Easter season with the same energy we bring to Lent?
Inspired by our triad of Lenten practices, here are three Easter practices you might try from now through Pentecost.
Lent is a time of fasting, but we do not fast for its own 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.
Many of my favorite moments involve singing: A pop music jam session with my siblings and my wife. Shouting along with Bruce Springsteen on “Born to Run” with the car windows down. That first “alleluia” at the Easter Vigil. 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 the great 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 during the meal, the disciples realize who is with them, and he instantly vanishes.
Blown away by this encounter with the risen Christ, the disciples race back to Jerusalem on foot, which was seven miles from Emmaus, to let the apostles know – minutes after they had just completed their first hike of the day. Fourteen miles in one day is pretty impressive, 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 50 days left until Pentecost – that’s plenty of time to get moving.
So, what are you doing for Easter this year?