My seven-year-old boy recently asked me what my favorite day was. After enduring five weeks of Lent, and standing on the doorstep of a windfall of sweeties, I understood at once his question. I paused. As a child, my ‘favorite day’ was Christmas. As a young convert, and during my years in religious life, it was Easter. In graduate school—which felt like 40 years in the wilderness—it was Lent.
I replied, “Christmas.” He said, “Why not Easter?” Good question. Not wanting to confuse him, and not having a whole lot to say, I replied, “I find it easier to relate to a little baby than to Resurrection.”
And I do. Each year, I confess, when Easter approaches, I steel myself for a mixture of joy and sadness. On Easter morn, in the afterglow of the grandeurs of the vigil, I find myself confronted with the reality of Resurrection. Solid as a rock, luminous as the sun. There it is. Confronting me. I can’t turn away. So I shut my eyes and say something completely inadequate like, “Thank you, Jesus, for rising from the dead for me.” But I always—or at least in the last 20 years—feel a hint of sadness.
When faced with the reality of Resurrection I feel keenly the immeasurable distance between me and that uncompromising reality. On Easter, I wake up in my same old Lenten skin. Same sins, more flab, headache as usual. If anything, it’s all going in the wrong direction. But I’m compelled—not by men, or signs, or nerves, or logic, but by the cool and serene reality of Resurrection—to confront the naked truth that despite all appearances, everything—EVERYTHING—is different.
Saint Augustine said in On the Trinity that since true happiness consists in life in heaven, it’s not for this life. But then he adds that in this life we can be “blessed through hope.” What does he mean? Imagine two men dying of thirst in the desert. One knows that a pool of clear water lies beyond the horizon, the other does not. Which is better off? The one who knows it, of course. Is he any less thirsty? Yes and no. He certainly has no more water in his mouth or fewer cramps in his side. But he knows something that makes a great deal of difference. He knows that before long he’ll be swimming in an oasis and his thirst will be quenched. Augustine would say the man is satiated “through hope.” Perhaps we should add, though, that he’s still jolly thirsty.
It’s like that with the resurrection from the dead. It’s a pool of clear water beyond the horizon, where human and divine nature are perfectly united, in a land with plentiful food and drink, youthful vigor, music and dance, fellowship with loved ones, carefree leisure, colorful decorations, spring flowers, and best of all, lots of small children; all in the context of a reality free from sin and evil and every privation. We know it awaits us. But we know it through hope.
Easter is not for the fainthearted. It’s literally only for the hopeful. I pray God gives you hope this Easter season.