Pastor viewpoint: A promise that there is always more
By Father John Gerritts, St. Patrick Parish
Easter is a big deal! As it should be! We Christians think so highly of our founder we visit his grave to see what is not there. No other group of people in the world does this. We rejoice because he was there and now his grave is empty. This means the message of God's mercy and forgiveness is true. What Jesus said on the cross has come to fruition: "Father, forgive them." Easter is a big deal and so deserves proper preparation and a lengthy celebration.
Many Christians recognize the 40 days leading up to Easter as the season of Lent. Though if you count, one will notice that the usual time for this season — Ash Wednesday to Easter — is actually 46 days. The "40 days of Lent" has always been more of a metaphorical than literal count, though already by the year 325 there was a well-established custom of fasting and performing acts of penance from the sixth Sunday before Easter until dusk on Holy Thursday, 40 days.
However it was also a custom to not fast or perform acts of penance on Sundays. Thus there were really only 34 days of preparation for Easter. So the next step was to add Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This made for 36 days. That is when the practice began to add the days of Wednesday through the Saturday before the sixth Sunday before Easter to bring the total back to 40 days.
But now we are in a new season — Easter. The Easter season is 50 days long and there is less confusion about how to count the days. First it makes sense that the Resurrection is such a remarkable event it requires more than one day to celebrate. It also makes sense that the celebration should be longer than the preparation, again acknowledging how great the Resurrection is.
The number 50 makes sense too, if we consider that Biblically the number 7 is considered the perfect number. It is the number of days of the week God gave us in the story of creation from the Book of Genesis. It represents the fullness of time and life lived to the fullest. So our Easter celebration is 7 weeks of 7 days, or what ancient Christians called "the week of weeks."
Which still only accounts to 49 days. The one additional day represents that with God there is always more. Our Easter season is a promise that there will be always more — which is eternity, the fulfillment of our purpose, God's design for us — perfection plus more.
It struck me that we have between 90 to 100 days or almost one-third of our year devoted to getting ready for celebrating Easter. If we sleep between 6 to 8 hours a night, we sleep for nearly one-third of our life. Hopefully these two one-third periods are not the same! We need to be awake to accept the gift of God's mercy that comes with the empty grave. It is through this empty tomb that we can be assured our sins are forgiven — and we must be awake to recognize this message!
It can be a difficult message at times to understand and accept. One would think it not so hard, but it is. Think of the sins we tend to hold on to so very tightly, and confessing them to God so often that we wonder if he tires of hearing us. But this Lent and Easter I have been reflecting on the great Saint Paul. It occurred to me in reading his letters that he doesn't dwell on his sins: he was a persecutor of Christians and even approved the stoning of Saint Stephen. He acknowledges that he was a sinner. But then reflects on who he is, who he has become, and who he hopes to be. Saint Paul is a perfect mentor for us when we find ourselves asleep to God's mercy or forgiveness and excessively dwelling on our sins. Remember we visit Jesus' tomb to see what is not there — our sins!