Director of Music and Elementary Music Instructor
St. John Berchmans Parish, Chicago, IL
More than once in the past few weeks, I have been asked by fellow parishioners, “How was your Easter?” My reply generally consists of something along the lines of, “It’s still going, and it’s great! Happy Easter!” The person inevitably gives me a weird look, and maybe even makes a worried comment about how I’m spending too many hours working at the parish if we’re still celebrating Easter. Never one to miss the opportunity for a catechetical moment (like a teachable moment but better), I explain that we are, in fact, still celebrating Easter—that it’s a fifty-day fiesta of basking in the glow of Christ’s Resurrected glory. At this point in the conversation, the person may return my “Happy Easter,” but sometimes I get the feeling that he or she still believes that the greeting is completely after-the-fact, and that Easter this year was over on Monday, April 9. It may have been extended in rare cases until the sad day when the last Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg was consumed, but Easter was definitely over by Sunday, April 15.
I think conversations like this are microcosms of a larger liturgical conundrum: how are we supposed to observe the season of Easter? In my personal experience, most Christians are really good at Lent. We pray. We fast. We give alms. We have honed the observance of Lent down to an art form. I often wonder, though, if our ability to fast throughout Lent is equaled by our ability to feast throughout Easter. Year after year, I find myself acutely aware of the fact that I am in the midst of the Lenten season—usually around day 22 when I really start to crave that Diet Coke, or chocolate, or when I really want to hit the snooze button one more time instead of waking up for the early Mass. However, I find that once I’ve journeyed through Holy Week and the incredible celebration that is the Paschal Triduum, I have a much harder time bringing the observance of the Easter season into my daily faith life than I did with Lent.
Why is that? Why is it so much easier to fast for forty days than it is to feast for fifty? Perhaps it’s because we’ve been so well catechized when it comes to our understanding of Lent as a journey. The Church is making her way from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and once we finally get there, it’s almost as though we collectively look around from the top of the peak and say to one another, “Whew, that was a great climb. Well, back to reality.” Except that the reality has changed. The reality is that Easter is not the end of the Lenten journey, it’s the culmination of that journey, even the transformation. It’s also beginning of another journey: the journey to Pentecost, when the joy of the Resurrection and Ascension bears fruit in the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Just as we journey toward Easter throughout Lent, so too should we journey toward Pentecost throughout Easter, bearing witness to the resurrected Christ all along the way. We are invited to grow even closer to Christ throughout the Easter season, to travel our journey of faith, moving “further up and further in” (in the words of C.S. Lewis) to the glory and promise of the Resurrection, our hearts burning within us each step of the way, so that when we reach Pentecost, they may be fully ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit and fanned into the blaze Jesus spoke of when He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)
This still begs the question: how are we to continue to celebrate Easter in our daily lives? How are we to witness to the joy of the Resurrection now that Easter Sunday has come and gone?
In my role as Director of Music, I have an invaluable help in maintaining my Easter spirit and encouraging others to do so. For each Sunday of the Easter season, I continue to choose hymns that point specifically to the Resurrection of Jesus. In some instances, general hymns of praise might work just as well with the selected Scripture passages, but it’s important to keep reminding the congregation that we as a Church are still celebrating Easter, still rejoicing in the fact that Christ has triumphed over sin and death forever, and that we are caught up in the promise of life eternal in Jesus our Savior.
Below is the text of a hymn I encountered a few years ago, as well as the link to a video of the Notre Dame Folk Choir performing this piece at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky. Chrysogonus Waddell, OSCO, a monk at Gethsemani, composed this particular setting, which is quietly lovely in its simplicity and yet resounding in its hopefulness. I encourage you to listen to the recording as you read the text, for this is an example of music and text joined together in a beautiful, symbiotic relationship.
The repetition of the statement “Jesus lives” is one that resonates throughout centuries and across continents. This is more than stating that “Jesus rose from the dead,” as though the Resurrection was an isolated, contained event. This hymn reminds us that “Jesus lives,” now and forever. In every moment of every day, Jesus lives. In every struggle and every triumph, Jesus lives. In our dying and in our rising, Jesus lives. May we carry this reality in our hearts throughout this Easter season and throughout our lives so that we may bear witness to the joy of the Resurrection, and the hope of eternal life in Christ.
Text by Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715–1759) from Sacred Hymns from the German, 1864
Music by Chrysogonus Waddell, OCSO (1930–2008)
1. Jesus lives: thy terrors now
Can, O death, no more appall us;
Jesus lives: by this we know,
Thou, O grave, cannot enthrall us, alleluia.
2. Jesus lives: henceforth is death
But the gate to life immortal.
This shall calm our trembling breath
When we pass its gloomy portal, alleluia.
3. Jesus lives: our hearts know well
Naught from us His love shall sever;
Life, nor death, nor pow’rs of hell
Tear us from His keeping ever, alleluia.
4. Jesus lives: to Him the throne
Over all the world is given.
May we go where He is gone,
Rest and reign with Him in heaven, alleluia.