The Christian world prayed, celebrated and greeted Easter Sunday with joy and exuberance. In addition to special liturgies there were eggs hunts, chocolates galore and tables abundant with the foods of spring. Then it was Monday, and for many it was business and school as usual, leaving Easter a treasured memory until next year.
We move quickly from our major religious holidays each year. It’s not intentional. Life hurries along and as soon as the sun sets on one holiday the next is being touted by merchants looking to sell us whatever the next big day brings. To remain in the spirit of the religious holiday — in this case Easter — takes deliberate intention.
Easter is about the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus following his brutal death at the hands of authorities who considered many of his teachings extreme. They feared his ideas might cause trouble for them: He suggested ways of living that were contrary to local customs, called into question the social structures of the day and challenged the status quo. He spoke of loving God and neighbor as the highest priorities, including the neighbor who was disliked or feared. He blessed people many considered unworthy of blessings, healed lepers and preached love and mercy as guidelines for right living.
His message was spiritual, concerning the Kingdom of God, and practical, teaching how to live in community where the rich, the poor, the worker and the business owner cared for each other. It was not the norm of the day but it is for all these reasons that Christianity spread throughout the ancient world and remains with us today. It is a message that is challenging and comforting at the same time. It is simple but not easy.
It is appropriate following meaningful and beautiful Easter liturgies that we embrace these teachings with renewed vigor and determination. Yet, arguments over health insurance for all people and how the immigrant population is draining financial coffers and taking jobs continue. Incarceration increases without enough talk of rehabilitation and methods on how to carry out the death penalty are still in the news.
Promotion of the bottom line conflicts with the notion of a living wage and people who are poor are blamed and mistrusted for their economic situations. Granted, this is a negative list and is certainly not held across all segments of society, but it’s out there and absolutely contrary to the teachings of Jesus — who favored the poor, the stranger, the sorrowful and the lonely. If we embrace the message of Easter, then we have to join with others who are working to give dignity and hope as well as material help to those who need it.
James Martin comments on the Beatitudes, the list of those who Jesus held in favor, in his book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”
This list includes the poor, the meek, and the hungry, those who suffer for following him as well as the peacemakers. He explains that Jesus grew up in a poor village and understood what poverty meant and how people lived well despite their poverty.
Jesus did not glamorize poverty but asked that the poor, lonely, sad and forgotten be cared for, to the point that it is a litmus test for admission to heaven, according to Father Martin. He goes on to explain that Jesus did not stop at asking that the poor be taken care of, but went further and asked that each of us become like the poor in their simple ways of living and their reliance on God.
Could this post-Easter season be the time to put feet on these teachings and make caring for people who are poor, sad, imprisoned, sick or persecuted more of a community and personal priority? We spend so much time preparing for Easter — resolving to do or not do certain things for Lent — why not something similar for this time leading to Pentecost and beyond? The options are endless: from volunteering at a homeless shelter to working on legislation that would offer hope and dignity to prisoners, immigrants or families living on the edge of poverty. If time is not plentiful but money is, then writing a check to an organization that works to bring justice and alleviate poverty is also an option. There is not one way or even a right way to live these teachings. It is a matter or prayer and reflection and then action as the spirit moves each of us.