It was St Augustine who famously said ‘we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song’. In more recent times, this statement was taken up by St Pope John Paul II who reminded his listeners that for Christians, Easter is not just an historical commemoration, but the most central reality in our faith. It affects our very identity and dictates the way we live our lives. Jesus, who died on the cross, an object of derision and failure, abandoned by almost all his followers, was raised to new life. Without the resurrection, the death of Jesus would have been pointless. With the resurrection, we can live secure in the knowledge that we have been set free from the slavery of sin and death, that the way to eternal life has been opened up for us.
Easter is a time of great joy, and indeed the signs of joy abound at Easter Sunday – white vestments, an abundance of flowers, joyful singing of the Alleluia. But we sometimes forget that, liturgically, the feast of Easter lasts for 50 days, and that, practically, we are called to be an Easter people every day of our lives. People should be able to see in our words and actions the joy and happiness that goes with this title.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, his first words to them were, ‘peace be with you’. There were no recriminations for the way they abandoned him in his hour of greatest need, no reminding them of how they had failed him. Instead he offered them in person the extraordinary gift of God’s love and mercy. It is a gift that needs to be passed on. In his Easter message to the world last year, Pope Francis used the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who tirelessly seeks out the lost and lonely of this world and calls them to friendship with God. In the world of today, it is our role as Easter people to share that gift of peace with those who exist on the borders of society. When we treat them with respect and kindness we reveal to them the merciful face of the Risen Lord and give them hope for a better future.
And it is not just to the marginalised that we are called to offer hope; it is to the members of our own families too, to our co-workers and colleagues and to those who serve us in shops and restaurants that we must become the embodiment of resurrection joy. Every act of generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness and goodness enables this to happen. At the Easter Vigil the Paschal Candle is lit as a symbol of Christ, our light, who enlightens our minds and hearts and shows us the way we must live. Beyond the Easter Vigil the light of that Paschal Candle must shine out in us, so that through us the peace and joy of the risen Christ is handed on to everyone.
Every one of us experiences ups and downs in our lives. There is often family discord to contend with, or illness to struggle with, or unemployment and financial insecurity to battle, but the peace and hope that comes with Christ’s resurrection assures us that no matter what happens, the love of God remains. Even in the most trying of circumstances we can have Alleluia on our lips.
As we journey through the 50 days of Easter, singing the Alleluias of our Easter hymns and reading from the Acts of the Apostles the story of the early Church, may we allow the gifts the risen Christ gives us to transform our lives so that what St Augustine said in the early 5th century may be a reality in the 21st – we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.
Jenny O’Brien is Liturgy Educator at the Office for Worship.