Christ is risen! Nothing else matters.
Which is why one of our bishops once said that, “Other people would not think this a time for festival. [But] far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy.”
How can this be? How can today be a time for unimaginable joy?
Today we truly want to gather; and yet, out of love of each other and all others, and in obedience to our bishops, we are deprived of what we really want. Deprived so much that it hurts—perhaps more deeply than we think. Which may be why we’re acting out in ways that are uncharacteristic; or feel a bone-deep sadness; or sense more keenly our separation.
Forty days ago, we began our Lent with our usual expectation, our usual anticipation. And then the usual became unusual. Our fast shifted dramatically, and our Lent became less comfortable and more strict.
Today, of all days, we should be together. And rejoicing. And all our pent-up Lenten discipline should be bursting forth. Yet instead, it feels as if Lent has been extended; as if we need to fast from the Eucharist and from each other for another 20 or 30 or 40 days. As if we need to repeat Lent again.
So how can this be a time for festival? How can this be not a time of distress, but a day of unimaginable joy?
It is, not because we feel right, or feel like celebrating. Today is a day of joy precisely because of what we celebrate today. Precisely because Christ is risen.
And now, because of this year, because of the unsettling circumstances of this year—now we get to understand in a more profound way, what Our Lord’s resurrection means.
We celebrate the end of death’s grip. So death may come, but it has no hold on us. Since Christ is risen, we slip through the Grim Reapers fingers into the joy of heaven.
We celebrate the end of fear and anxiety. For our deepest fears, our most anxious feelings, are tied directly to our mortality. But this day of resurrection means that all that scares, all that makes us uneasy—all that has been overthrown. And, with Christ beside us, supporting us, embracing us—as He always does—in Him, we can rest secure. And so our uneasiness may be calmed in Him. Our disquiet may be soothed and appeased.
That’s, of course, easy to say. And it may be hard to imagine. But this is a day, not when uncertainties, but when our faith allows us to say, Christ is risen! This is a day when we defiantly say to the devil, death, and all doubts, that Christ is risen! This is the day when we look through the tears, looking each other in the eye, and say, Christ is risen!
For this is the day of all days, the day of resurrection, the day when we acknowledge that what happens here is a light momentary affliction which can be borne with equanimity and Christian poise since we know what lies beyond, and what fullness of gladness awaits us.
St Dionysius of Alexandria was the author of the words I said at the beginning: that “Other people would not think this a time for festival. [But] far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy.”
He said that to his diocese in the midst of a time worse than ours, during one of the deadliest pandemics in history, when 5000 people died each day in one city.
St Dionysius could say that because he not only believed in the resurrection, but he also was convinced that the truth of Christ’s resurrection has the power to shape how we think, how we behave, how we live in this time.
And so he was not promoting unrealistic hope as a way of ignoring empirical tragedy. Instead, this saintly bishop was rejoicing in the opportunity such circumstances present for our faith––to go out of our way to love and serve our neighbors, spreading gospel hope, in both word and deed, in times of great fear.
And this we can do for only one reason: because Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death and viruses, and bestowing life and the joy of living in those who hold fast to Him.