We Are Easter People!
We have a tendency to fall into the trap set by retailers of celebrating liturgical feasts before they actually happen: hot cross buns arrived in my supermarket one month before Ash Wednesday, and Easter eggs when Lent had barely begun.
We then aggravate that by not letting a liturgical season take its full course. We wished people a Happy Easter last Sunday but are you doing so this Sunday?
Easter for Christians is not a one-off event: rather it is a season lasting a full 50 days and our joy should continue to overflow this year until June 9, this year’s date for Pentecost.
In fact, truly for Christians, Easter is not a feast or a season at all but a way of life. As an old hymn put it: “We are the Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song!”
But, too often, we are the Good Friday people. We should be living our lives full of joy and hope — even if occasionally marked by more reflective times like Lent and Good Friday. But instead, we live our lives focused on pain and despair—only occasionally punctuated by reluctant outbursts of joy.
So what is it to live with a constant belief in the resurrection?
This highly-charged word hit the headlines of the mainstream press a few weeks ago when Pastor Alph Lukau in Gauteng claimed to have brought a man back to life. It was, inevitably, a scam, and the media had a field-day mocking the pastor and his credulous congregants.
But one of the reasons why people were so preoccupied by this is that they think of resurrection as simply meaning bodies coming back to life.
I am not in any way belittling this understanding of resurrection, or questioning the miracle of Jesus rising from the tomb in body as well as soul three days after his death, but resurrection needs to mean more for us than — to use the phrase of an esteemed theologian — “a juggling act with bones”.
Resurrection is not about magic; it is about transformation. We know too well in South Africa that transformation, like resurrection, is a hard task — so no wonder we hope that there will be some waving of a magic wand and everything will change overnight.
The Resurrection of Jesus set in place a transformation not only in his body but in the bodies of his disciples. They went from being scared and hidden to being confident and visible.
This happened instantly in the case of Mary Magdalen at the tomb; it took a bit longer for the male disciples (not least Thomas) and reaches its apex only at Pentecost — the end of the Easter season — when the disciples step resolutely out of the Upper Room into the marketplace and start sharing their faith.
Church of the Body of Christ
This marks the birth of the Church, and it is no wonder that we call the Church the Body of Christ since this is the resurrection miracle that continues to this day—and did not end when Jesus’ body ascended into heaven.
Fear turned into courage. Despair turned into hope. Death turned into life. Good Friday turned into Easter. But do we actually live like this?
I applied this test recently when I was at an impressive gathering of 150 people from across the Catholic schools of Gauteng. I was supposed to speak about the state of the nation and was anxious that I would just end up listing a whole lot of reasons for people to be downcast. So I gave the participants five minutes to vent all their frustrations.
And then I gave them a series of challenges: share something which gives you hope about your school; share an example of hope in your local community; find reasons for hope in South Africa or even in the Church; and finally focus on something in your own life that gives you hope.
The room was soon buzzing as the participants discovered many more things about which they were hopeful than they perhaps expected.
A tendency to see the world through the dark glasses of Good Friday was soon replaced by the rose-coloured lens of an Eastervision.
Living the Resurrection does not magically make our pains and our worries disappear. But what it does do is constantly remind us to look for — and find — hope and light and life even when they are not immediately apparent.
Such a lens is especially important to us as a nation in these weeks up to and after the elections.
Voting was mistakenly presented to the South African people as “magic” — as a resurrection event — that would instantly transform the country. That process certainly began on April 27, 1994, and will continue through May 8, 2019, and beyond. But it is a process.
Yes, we need to vote as part of that process — and vote in a way that is thoughtful and concerned about the common good, as our bishops have reminded us. But we have to be contributing to transformation — the Resurrection of our Nation — in all kinds of other ways throughout the year: in how we treat people, in how we deliver and how we receive services, in how we use money, in how we reach out to others in our schools, our shops, our neighbourhoods, our places of worship and our workplaces.
In my work at the Denis Hurley Centre — in the toughest part of Durban, dealing with some of the most neglected communities and fighting with complacent bureaucrats — I have plenty of reasons to despair. But I do not because I will not. We have been placed here by God, by management and staff and the dozens of volunteers who join us, to be the sign of resurrection in that part of the city.
It is certainly not easy, but it wasn’t easy either for the disciples to live out the Resurrection in the early Church.
We might also be inclined to give up on belief in resurrection for our country. We can try and retreat into our churches, or our gated communities or even “pack for Perth”; but God has placed us here in his Church in South Africa to be a sign of resurrection to those who can see only Good Friday.
And if it is hard for us now, just remember how much harder it was for the previous generations. So many Christians endured the darkest days of apartheid—and yet they never gave up their hope in resurrection.
“We are the Easter South Africans, and Hallelujah is our song!”
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