“Now that our Lenten observance is ended …” So proclaims the celebrant when inviting the community to the renewal of baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil (when there are no actual baptisms). This is a bookend to the invitation “to the observance of a holy Lent” on Ash Wednesday, when the celebrant bids the congregation to faithfulness in “prayers, fasting, and self-denial.” Now that our Lenten observance is ended, the invitation shifts to festivity and thanksgiving, for “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast.” (The Spanish translation strikes me as more pointed here: Celebremos la fiesta! This does not mean we abandon the practices of prayer and almsgiving–though we can certainly lay fasting aside for the next seven weeks–it’s more about the attitude we bring to such things.
Have you thought about what a treasure the liturgical year is? Over the course of the annual cycle that begins every Advent, it exposes us to a rich and balanced diet of theological truth. It walks us through the hard news, the warnings, the comforting news, the inspiring news, the soberly truthful news, the joyful news, the transcendent news, the energizing news–all adding up to the good news we call gospel. And it does all this without asking our permission, or even bothering to inquire how we’re feeling!
Perhaps, during Lent, you didn’t really feel like being penitential and restrained. Maybe things were going great for you in your life, and you were in a party mood. Or, perhaps, now that “mandatory rejoicing” is upon us, you’re just not in the mood. You feel overwhelmed by anxiety and fear, and would rather just keep things very quiet. The liturgical year’s response to either of these situations is sublime apathy. It’s now all about you! (or me, or any of us) My mood is irrelevant. God’s mood, expressed through the repeated pattern of fast, feast, and ordinary time, is what matters. Worship is not about us sharing our moods with God; it’s about God sharing his moods with us.
I hope the way I have expressed this doesn’t sound uncaring or unfeeling. I hope I’m pointing to a quite wonderful bit of God’s mercy. Christ is risen from the dead, and that’s a complete game-changer. Yes, jobs were lost today, but Christ is risen from the dead. Yes, terminal illness was diagnosed today, but Christ is risen from the dead. Yes, hearts were broken today, but Christ is risen from the dead. Yes, we live with the consequences of environmental degradation, but Christ is risen from the dead. However it is that the power of sin and death affects us today, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life. That doesn’t make all the bad stuff unreal, but it does put it in a perspective that cannot help but evoke rejoicing on the part of those who are destined to share in that triumph.
So … keep your party hat on. Feasting is compulsory!