Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Vigil on April 3 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. (Photo: Vatican Media/AFP)
The calendar says that today is Easter. I find that hard to believe. Don’t you? Are we going to believe a piece of paper, or are we going to believe our experience?
As far as I can tell, today is actually the 376th day of a Lent that started on Ash Wednesday in 2020. It’s more than nine times as long as the old-fashioned Lent. The calendar tells us that today is Easter, but we know that the Lent that started a year ago will last until the end of this year or beyond.
It has been a long, long Lent. Maybe that is appropriate, since the English word “Lent” is related to the word “long.” It originally meant “spring,” the season when the days lengthen, or as my father would say with his New York City pronunciation, “lenten.”
The days have been long, that’s for sure. We have given up or been forced to give up a lot. We don’t meet friends. We don’t show signs of affection. We don’t show our smiles or frowns. We don’t travel. We don’t go out for relaxation. We don’t go to work. We don’t go to school. We don’t go to church.
Our worship together has been cut back or even cancelled. Many parishes face financial disaster. People have gotten out of the habit of coming together and many might not get back into the habit. In their responses to safety measures like shutdowns and vaccines, the stupidity of some who claim to lead churches will drive some intelligent people away.
Some people have seen their financial life ruined as businesses go broke and jobs disappear. Some of us have given up even more as family, friends or colleagues have fallen ill and caused fear on their behalf. Some of us have become ill.
And of course, as in any disaster, prayers for protection and healing have not borne the fruit that was desperately desired. Probably all of us know people or know of people who have been forced to give up life, victims of this deadly virus.
And the end of this Lent is nowhere in sight in spite of prayers, social distancing, masks and — at last — vaccines. In fact, the latest news is that we here in Japan are heading into a fourth spike in virus cases, a spike that is expected to be worse than the previous three while politicians and bureaucrats dither and vaccination proceeds at a snail’s pace.
And yet here we are celebrating Easter.
Isn’t Easter supposed to be at the end of Lent? It wasn’t so last year, it isn’t so this year. Today is a Lenten Easter. Our “Alleluia!” is muffled by our masks. But perhaps it need not be muffled in our hearts and prayers.
Easter has not been removed from the calendar. It does, in fact, happen on some date each year, even this year. Sometimes, as in this year, it seems to happen in spite of what is happening on that or any other date.
What does marking Easter during an extended Lent do for us?
We have been forced to give up a lot rather than choosing for ourselves our Lenten sacrifices. Has that given us time and heart to remember that Emmanuel, God with us, is enough? We have been shut off from many of our usual contacts and activities. Have we used the time to increase our prayer and our embrace of Scripture? Have we spent our “down time” binge watching TV, or have we spent it reading, reflecting, listening to good music or learning something new about faith, the world and ourselves? Have we let self-pity, or more often boredom, take control of our thoughts and feelings?
But in the meantime, today is Easter, the day to remember that even when other things are taken from us, the Resurrection is not taken out of our lives. On the cross, Jesus’ life was taken from him, yet that death was the way to life. The rising of Jesus to new life and our rising with him in the new birth of Baptism is something that happens each day of each year. Good days. Bad days. Indifferent days. Lenten days.
Perhaps this is the best way to celebrate Easter. It is certainly the best this year, since there is no other way available to us. Easter while it is still Lent. Easter without the extravagant liturgies (though I love them) nor with fancy dress nor any of the usual marks of celebration (though my sister thoughtfully sent me jelly beans). Resurrection in the midst of all that death, disease, disappointment, confusion and hopelessness can throw at us.
The Resurrection that we especially celebrate today and every Sunday, the Resurrection that we live every day, is meant to be a light in a world of darkness. This year, the darkness may be more painful than in other years, more Lenten than usual. But the Resurrection of Jesus from his tomb is the promise that we are already coming out of our tombs. The tomb of Lent. The tomb of Covid. The tomb of death. Those tombs do not have the final word. God’s love for me, for you, for us will not be conquered.
Next year we will be back, we hope, to the usual Easter. But for this year let us give thanks that we are being forced to remember that though in some sense we live in Lent all our lives, we also live Easter all our lives.
William Grimm is a missioner and priest in Tokyo and is the publisher of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.