The ultimate among Solemnities, the greatest among Feasts – Easter – the day we celebrate the crowning, central truth of our faith in Jesus Christ. Easter is the most important day of the Christian calendar, more important than even Christmas. It is the day of the Resurrection and Christ’s triumphant victory over sin and death.
As a second grader, I remember our teacher telling us of Easter’s primacy even over Christmas and I recall with particular vividness my shocked surprise: “Easter greater than Christmas?!? But how could this be?” I tried with all the might of seven-year-old logic to reconcile in my mind this shocking statement, but with little success. However, as the years passed, just as I gained a greater understanding that Christmas had less to do with receiving presents and more to do with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, so too, did I gain a greater appreciation for the glory that is Easter.
After the solemn observances of Lent, leading up to Holy Week and the particular somberness of Holy Thursday and Good Friday when we unite ourselves to the suffering Jesus endured for love of us, we are also transformed through this uniting in order to also share in Jesus’ great culminating victory over sin and death. On Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ glorious Resurrection from the dead and the Resurrection is the whole basis for our faith, as Saint Paul emphatically reminds us in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).
Just as we are called to share in Our Lord’s Passion and Death, we are also called to unite ourselves to His Resurrection during Easter, for if “we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him” (2 Timothy 2:11). This greatest of gifts, given to us lovingly and freely by our Redeemer, has purchased for us eternal life. Could there be any greater glory to which humankind can aspire than to reign with Him in Heaven? I can’t think of one.
The joy of my faith and hope rests in the words of Jesus to Martha before He raised Lazarus from the dead: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live; and every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever” (John 11:25-26). This says it all for me as my own resounding “Yes, Lord, I have believed that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God” echoes Martha’s response.
Easter is not only the foundation of our faith, but it also invigorates our hope. Hope draws our eyes upward, where God resides. Saint Paul encourages us: “Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:1-4).
While Christmas and Easter both have Octaves, the Church celebrates the Easter Season for a longer period than the Christmas Season. “Eastertide” extends to 50 days, which commemorates the 40 days Our Lord spent on earth after His Resurrection until His Ascension into Heaven and the 10 days between the time of the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit – Advocate and Guide – at Pentecost, considered the birthday of the Church. Thus, the Easter Season celebrates not only Our Lord’s Resurrection, but it also embraces His Ascension and Pentecost. Incidentally, the 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension, during which Our Lady and the Apostles were gathered to pray while awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, is considered the very first novena!
The crowning joy of my faith makes my heart swell to overflowing as I join with the chorus of the faithful in proclaiming, “Yes, rejoice and be glad for Christ is truly risen! Alleluia!”