During Lent, I wrote about directing a day of retreat centered on the people of the Passion – those figures from Scripture who were present during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. Now I am preparing to revisit each of their stories as “part 2” of that retreat takes place. How might each of those characters changed between the time of Jesus’ death and the coming of the Holy Spirit?
The Scriptures provide some ready answers for a few of them. Peter emerges from the experience with an eloquence and conviction that was a far cry from his early verbal gaffes and shameful denials. John is one of the eleven who convenes in the upper room. He probably escorted Mary as part of his promise to Jesus that he would provide for her. It is pretty safe to assume that Mary Magdalene was among “the other women” (Acts 1:13-14) who were also there. The mood among this group must have been electric. They had just witnessed the Ascension of Jesus and were told by him to stay in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Imagine the buzz of conversation, the telling and retelling of stories about Jesus’ apparitions, and the anticipation of what was to come.
It might also have been possible that Simon of Cyrene and the centurion who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God were also present on that long-ago Pentecost. They might have stood among the crowd, drawn to the scene by the fierce sound of wind and of the disciples proclaiming the Good News in different tongues. Imagine their excitement at witnessing such an awe-inspiring event.
We celebrate the feast of Pentecost as the “capper” to the Easter season. It affirms who we are as the Church – the People of God called to spread the news far and wide of the mighty words and works of Jesus Christ. We may not have the gift of tongues bestowed upon the disciples, but we are endowed with the same grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Like those early disciples, we are called to put our own gifts to use each and every day for the realization of the Reign of God. It may not be as dramatic as the original Pentecost, but it is no less effective. Then, like Peter, we, too, can echo the words of the ancient prophet: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will lift me with joy in your presence” (Acts 2:28).
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Re-discover why Easter is a feast! The Easter weekend was just the beginning, so let the feasting continue with these calendar cards. I invite you to download Keeping the Easter Feast calendar cards and use them in your home or catechetical sessions.
After a nice workout, I went to my favorite coffee shop to do some writing. The television was on but, instead of the usual sportscast, the channel was tuned to a PBS oil-painting class. The artist’s gentle voice provided a nice backdrop to my work and I occasionally picked up a word or two of advice. The best was a reminder to paint your own picture. “It’s your canvas,” he noted.
In a couple of weeks I am co-directing a day of retreat for students in a Benedictine spiritual formation program. The topic is discernment. Rather than focusing on what they want to do, however, the question of the day is, “how do you want to live?” It’s a worthy reflection for each of us as we enter the Easter season. If the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has any bearing for us, it must lead to an essential question about who we decide to be. In essence discernemnt leads deep within in order to find and follow an “inner compass.” This, in turn, guides us in directions that not only affect what we do, but how we choose to go about it.
My friend, Lily, taught me how this works. A few months ago her entire office went through restructuring. A new management team was put in place and, with it, new rules and procedures. As with most change, it set off a series of reactions among Lily’s coworkers. Some quit. Others balked. Most complained. Lily chose instead to go with the flow. “I decided to engage,” she told me. As a result she found peace with the situation. Lily’s choice to follow her best instincts will serve her – and those around her - well.
Parents and catechists have a vital role to play in helping children and young people choose how to respond to life. The emergence of Christ from a tomb of death and into a life of love provides a guideline for the kind of response we, as his disciples, are invited to make. We can paint our canvas with dark hues and monotonous lines, or we can create a masterpiece of color and texture. The choice is up to us.
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Some of us are old enough to remember a song about the Boston subway system called the “M.T.A.” It bemoaned the fate of Charlie, who didn’t have the correct fare in order to exit the train. I knew the feeling as I ran into a series of travel glitches while trying to get home from a lengthy series of presentations this past weekend. “Will she ever return, oh will she ever return…?” was my own chorus of lament as I watched the airport monitors announce delays and missed connections. My husband sent a text that contained the secret to coping with my travel woes: “Go with the flow.” When life throws our plans out of whack, it’s the sanest way to travel.
Easter teaches us this lesson in spades. Consider the disciples who thought their lives and dreams were headed in one direction. A glimpse into an empty tomb threw their journey onto a whole new track. It would bring them face-to-face with Christ in new form and open up a world of possibilities. After their initial rush of exuberance and joy, they had to go with the flow of life in entirely new ways.
After twelve days on the road I am now reflecting on the people, places, and experiences I had over the course of my trip. Offering workshops and retreats, walking along bike trails and the winding paths of a retreat center, catching sight of snow in Michigan and palm trees in Florida, listening to stories of faith and family, ministry and mission, I have been given multiple moments of grace over the past week and a half.
In his book, The Awakened Heart, Gerald May refers to the practice of “little interior glances”, a contemplative way to view the world around us while we are in transit. These provide glimpses into time as it flows by – “…unadorned remembrances and happenings within the ordinary activities of our daily life” (pg. 134). Within the context of Easter, these small glimpses are often into seemingly empty spaces. Like the disciples on that first Easter morning, we are likely to find Christ in new ways that surprise, delight, and bring us a renewed vision of life.
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How can you express your gratitude for Christ’s gift of life? Download my Prayer of Easter Gratitude and use it with your family or class to name the ways you have been blessed this Easter.
This melancholy lyric is sung by countless congregations on Good Friday. It is so beloved that I once saw a liturgy committee nearly explode when the music director suggested replacing it with another hymn. The discussion took two hours to resolve. The song stayed.
I am in the midst of preparing a retreat on the people of the Passion – those who were there at various points during Jesus’ trial, scourging, journey to Golgotha, crucifixion, and death. Peter’s denial and the centurion’s statement of faith stand in deep contrast to one another. They remind us that we who call ourselves believers aren’t always the most reliable. Mary’s anguish and John’s tender charge to care for her are heartbreakingly tender moments that speak of a mother’s devotion and a son’s concern for her welfare. Mary Magdalene’s staunch faith must have been sorely tested through witnessing such excruciating events. Simon of Cyrene, an unknowing bystander, is pulled into the scene against his will and yet journeys all the way with Jesus to the cross. Each character brings a humanizing depth to the Passion that provides insight into what it was like to be there.
As I ponder the Passion, it strikes me that we are all too eager to move past Good Friday in order to get to Easter Sunday. In many books and meditations I continually find references to these characters, particularly Mary, that portray them as serene and knowing by the time Jesus is taken down from the cross. It seems to do them a disservice and to shortchange the very real experience of grief, loss, and anguish that beset them all.
Over the weekend I learned that the husbands of two of my friends have died. It brings to mind the difficulty of taking on our own “passions”. Death of a beloved one is not grasped in the moment nor is it explained away with platitudes. We live in a culture, however, that fears death. As a result, we often flee from those in deep mourning and find ourselves unable to cope with the reality of loss. The people of the Passion do neither of these things. Each stays within the moment so that, in time, he or she is able to rejoice in the hope of a new dawn when life is restored in new and unimaginable ways.
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Discovering the New Life of Easter is a fully multi-generational event from Gather In My Name, designed to bring children, youth, and adults together to pray, share faith, and learn more about Easter practices and traditions. With this Easter event participants will:
Deepen their understanding of Easter as a season to celebrate new life in Jesus Christ.
Cultivate an awareness of the hope and life that comes through Jesus Christ's Ressurection.
Identify ways to discover signs of the new life of Christ enfolded within daily experience and surroundings.
Learn more about Discovering the New Life of Easter event and click here!
I am getting ready to direct a day of reflection on the psalms and, in preparation, have immersed myself in their lyrical beauty. From awe-filled praise over the majesty of creation to the tender cries of a soul in pain, the psalms give expression to the vast range of emotion that we bring to our prayer. Even the calls for vengeance and the “smiting” of enemies have a place in such prayer. When we are confronted with outrageous acts of terror, abuse, violence, or corruption, the plea for justice and retribution comes naturally. What better place to take such feelings than to God whose wider vision helps temper our emotional outbursts?
I attended the NCEA Convention in Boston last week and, once again, found myself surrounded by the generosity of women and men dedicated to the well-being of children, youth, and families. It always warms my heart. On my last night, I went to a nearby restaurant for what I hoped would be a quiet meal. Instead, I was seated next to a trio of disgruntled co-workers. For the next hour I was an unwillingly recipient of their complaints and criticisms about a supervisor. Perhaps there was just cause for their frustration, but they vented it without regard for those within earshot. It soured the experience of an otherwise lovely meal.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, we incorporate a psalm refrain into the readings from Scripture. The word has a double meaning. Within the liturgy, it refers to a song or chorus. Since the psalms were originally meant to be sung or chanted, using them as a refrain makes perfect sense. The other meaning is also apt: to forbear or abstain. Used in this context, the psalms invite us to hold back on weeping or complaining until we are in a more appropriate setting. I have no doubt that God’s ears are well attuned to the cries of misery and righteous indignation that each of us experiences at one time or another. Might it make more sense to abstain from throwing those grievances out into public spaces and, instead, to bring them to prayer? This seems to be the practice of the original psalmists. No wonder that so many of the psalms of lament end up with some form of blessing and expression of gratitude. Prayer has a way of doing that – of changing the atmosphere and drawing us into a wider view. And, if nothing else, giving the people at the next table a chance to eat in peace.
Pay attention to the psalm refrains that are used during the Easter season. Use one or more of them as part of your family or class prayer.
Try to monitor your speech for an entire day. What words of negativity, criticism, cruelty, or complaint can you refrain from saying? Share your insights with your family or class.
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I re-discovered this year why Easter is a feast. There was such abundance in my celebration, starting with the rich symbols and rituals of the Vigil service on Saturday night. It began outside with a blazing fire that left all of us reeking of wood smoke, and continued with the gradual accumulation of light in the church as the flame from the Paschal Candle was passed from one person to the next. The readings from the Old Testament told of God’s creative and liberating power. The alleluias burst forth in song, and the Gospel proclaimed Christ risen from the dead. The water of Baptism flowed freely and all gave thanks for the blessing of newly-initiated members into our church family. I went to bed feeling inspired by the beauty of our liturgical life.
The next morning my family gathered at my sister’s home for brunch. Not only was the food abundant and delicious, but so was the laughter that rippled out from our storytelling. I closed the day with a prayer of gratitude for the festive nature of Easter and all that I experienced over the course of the weekend.
Someone once told me that, at one time, the Church forbade fasting during the Easter season. I can’t verify this, but believe it must be true. If Lent is a season for fasting, Easter is the polar opposite. The seven weeks that stretch from the Sunday celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord to the vibrant festival of Pentecost are meant for raucous praise and unending gratitude. What better way to celebrate than to immerse ourselves in the gracious gifts that God bestows upon us through the sharing of food, family, and faith? The Easter weekend was just the beginning. Christ has risen! Let the feasting continue!
Share a prayer of Easter joy with your class or group.
Look ahead on your class or family calendar. Note the different opportunities for continuing the Easter festival through the celebration of church, family, and community events.
Download my calendar cards for keeping the Easter feast and use it in your home or catechetical sessions.
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Sunday, April 15th, is the Second Easter of Sunday. Plan to spend time this week reflecting on the readings and preparing to celebrate the Eucharist. Gather in My Name offers "Question of the Week" - a free resource to incorporate the Sunday Eucharist into your religion classes, family discussions, or community activities.
Question of the Week: When do you find forgiving easy? When is it difficult?
Reading 1 Reflection: Acts 4:32-35
Reading 2 Reflection: 1 John 5:1-6
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Looking for discussion Questions for the above Reading Reflections? Click here!
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