The Church always seems rather better at keeping Lent than keeping Easter. We have forty days of Lent – and many people give up or take up something for the season. But after Easter Day, all too many of us simply go on holiday. (I’ll be away for the next six days, since you ask…)
What would it mean to keep the season of Easter as fully as we keep the season of Lent?
How can we let its message sink more deeply into our lives?
St Augustine offers us some advice – “We are an Easter people, and our song is Alleluia!”
What does he mean? Well, he doesn’t mean that we sing Alleluia to pretend everything is getting better here on earth. Christians should never deny the obvious reality of injustice and suffering – the ways in which Christ continues to be hungry, thirsty, homeless and naked today (cf. Matthew 25). Augustine was well aware of the sin and injustice of the world.
If you are of a certain age you may remember the Abba song: “I have a dream, a fantasy, to get me through reality…” The Easter song is not that kind of message. It isn’t a fantasy, to get us through the dark realities of our broken world. Christians believe that Holy Week and Easter reveal the true reality of things. The love which created the universe, and holds it in being, has entered into the most harrowing parts of human existence (Good Friday), descending even into hell (Holy Saturday), and has not been defeated (Easter Day). And so, in St Augustine’s words, we can “keep on walking, and sing Alleluia.” As he puts it, we sing Alleluia “not to delight our leisure but to ease our toil.”
That’s why Christians are to be found in the very places where suffering is most intense. We don’t need to run away from suffering, to block it put with a “dream” or a “fantasy.” We can enter with Christ into the places that feel most desolate, most “God-forsaken,” because we believe that in Christ, God has not forsaken them. The Good News of Easter is one and the same as the Good News of he is both the one who suffers with us, and the one who comes to liberate us from oppression and injustice.
It’s no wonder that some of the most powerful Easter songs were written by people who lived under slavery, segregation and apartheid. They didn’t have the luxury of a fantasy life that took them out of reality. Rather, they were sustained in the midst of an often brutal reality by the knowledge that they were children of God – bought by Jesus Christ at a price, and part of his new creation. And the conviction which sustained them in the midst of oppression was at the heart of the movement for their liberation. As Desmond Tutu put it:
Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, through him who loves us.
A happy Easter to you all!