I read an interesting news story recently about a Florida pastor who used a rather creative approach to inspire his congregation during Lent.
He introduced a Lenten program with a baseball theme, asking his congregation to sign spiritual “spring training” contracts in which they agreed to worship, pray, study and forgive. To add to the mood, the pastor even set up a display of baseball paraphernalia in the church lobby.
Now, it is no secret that I, too, am an avid baseball fan, so the analogy of Lent as a kind of “spring training” — a disciplined preparation for Easter — appeals to me, especially since Opening Day for Major League Baseball was just this past Sunday.
If we stretch this little metaphor further, we can make the point that Easter is a beginning and not an end to our journey, the “opening” if you will of a new season in our daily Christian life.
I draw this connection here because I do think there may be a sense among many that Easter is the grand finale or culmination of Lent, rather than this new beginning. Instead, can we think of Easter as an embarking point — a new opportunity to start our life as Christians refreshed, reinvigorated, restored?
If we do so, the question and the challenge then become, what are we doing with our Christian lives on Easter Monday? And in the week after Easter, and so on?
This is not, of course, to discount the Easter feast by any means. Certainly we have reason to celebrate as our 40-day journey of penitence comes to a close this week. And Easter is, of course, the greatest of all the holy days in the Christian year, the day when we commemorate the miracle of our Lord’s resurrection, and our own.
At the same time, Easter must not be thought of as a kind of happy ending to the tragic story of Jesus’ horrible crucifixion and death, but as a new beginning for all of us. We do not just honor the memory of that Easter more than 2,000 years ago, but the living presence of the Risen Christ among us and in each and every one of us.
And so, if all of our fasting, prayer, spiritual readings and good deeds for Lent merely get us to Easter and no further — if on the next day we revert to our old selves and our old, sinful ways and bad habits — what have we gained?
If Lent is a kind of “spring training,” why let our newly honed Christian muscles and our reignited spiritual energy languish because the special holy day has passed?
For example, many Catholics will come to Mass on Easter Sunday for the first time in weeks, if not months, to celebrate Easter Sunday. Please know that I welcome them with open arms and ask you to do the same — even as I pray that they will come to understand that not just on Easter Sunday but at every Eucharist we celebrate throughout the year we relive the first Easter all over again. I pray these good souls will have a joyful experience in our communities and return to us to fill the pews that too often are not filled in the Sundays between Easter and Christmas.
Still others come faithfully to church, but struggle to live out what they have learned in their daily lives, in personal addictions, in their behavior and dealings in the workplace or in their relationships with loved ones. I pray that this Easter truly will inspire them and that the new Easter fire will light in them a burning for the Lord that no obstacle to joy can survive.
Easter reminds us that when we are in Christ, all obstacles are surmountable — even death itself. If we let him, Jesus is there to coach us, prop up, nurture us and support us. His tomb was opened for us.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his March 13 apostolic exhortation “The Sacrament of Charity,” writes that, “the celebration and worship of the Eucharist enable us to draw near to God’s love and to persevere in that love (emphasis added).”
Persevere, my dear sisters and brothers, beyond the magnificent celebration about to occur.
Persevere in your attempts, no matter how many times you may stumble here and there, to imitate the kindness, patience and enduring love of Christ.
Carry your Easter joy home and to work on the Monday after and all the days to follow.
Show others by your example and by your smile, energy, compassion and confidence what it truly means to be a Christian.
Peace to all.