Thursday, May 5, 2016

'Post Pascha Swoon' or 'Revived by Joy'?

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


I began this morning with a question on my mind:   Is there life after Pascha?  This, in, turn, led to a series of further related questions:  Is there meaningful ecclesial/church life following the paschal celebration of only little more than a few days ago?  Is it possible to retain any of the vibrancy and joy of commemorating, participating, and experiencing the Resurrection of Christ?  Can we continue to maintain our ecclesial lives beyond the level of perfunctory attendance once we have passed through Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha?

Humanly speaking, these may be unrealistic expectations for the following reasons:

  • Most everyone is still overcoming a certain level of exhaustion, that is not merely physical.  I think at times that Bright Week may have to be downgraded to Recovery Week!   
  • Clearly everyone is back to normal time and routines – work, school, etc. – that may have been temporarily interrupted during Holy Week and Pascha. “Life goes on,” according to a limp cliché, and we may still be catching up with some unfinished business.
  • The Paschal/Pentecostal Season does not have the  unique services that characterize Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha.  The one exception, the services of Bright Week, have not well-attended and are therefore no longer scheduled.

Does our surrounding culture influence us by treating Easter as a “one and done” affair?  Meaning, that when we wake up on Bright Monday, are we already “moving on?”

However, that does not mean that our parish(es) have to empty out and become tomb-like immediately after Pascha outside of Sunday’s Liturgy.  The inevitable “summer slowdown” need not begin before we have even completed Bright Week. The Resurrection of Christ is meant  to be enlivening, not deadening!

The “swoon theory” is a hopelessly absurd idea meant to explain away the Resurrection of Christ.  Yet, how many of the faithful experience a “post-paschal swoon” from which they need to awaken before the entire Season comes to a close.  If such is the case, then what does this say of the over-all impact of the Paschal Season?

Perhaps we need to probe just what each and every one of us means by the term “Pascha.”  It is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for Passover.  Pascha, therefore, is:

  • The Christian Passover/passage from death to life in and through the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
  • The commemoration and actualization of these saving events, realized through the Church’s liturgical services, and succinctly expressed as “Christ is Risen!”
  • The transformation of suffering into joy, revealing the true meaning of the Cross as salvific.
  • The supreme gift of the renewal of life and the restoration of communion with God.
  • The “death of death.”
  • The foretaste of our own resurrection from the dead into the eternal light of God’s Kingdom.
  • The event that established the Church in the world until the end of time.
  • The “Feast of Feasts” and focal point of our community’s shared life together.

The exuberance of our paschal celebration during the “night brighter than the day” is the festal expression of the Church’s deepest truth.  The light, color, music and movement are all manifestations of the paschal joy that sweeps through the church as we proclaim that Christ is Risen!  Hopefully, it is also the expression of our own faith in the Risen Lord.

However, for some “Pascha” may be reduced to something other than what it truly is. Or it takes on a life of its own, detached and independent from what was outlined above.  This is probably true for once-a-year visitors to the church – Easter Orthodox Christians – but this can also tempt us.  Such reductions may include:

  • Approaching Pascha primarily in ethnic, cultural or social terms.
  • Over-emphasis on the externals:  dress, pascha basket, roasted lamb, family traditions, etc.
  • Nostalgic or sentimental evocation of one’s past, a temptation that “cradle Orthodox” may especially be prone to.
  • A “fun experience” (I have actually heard this one before), thus using a term better suited to a trip to the amusement park than for the “Feast of Feasts.”

Perhaps we could say that the above is more a description of “Easter” popularly understood, rather than Pascha as revealed in the Church.  Again, when these approaches are detached from the deeper meaning of Pascha, then the inevitable occurs quite naturally:  Pascha is reduced to a once-a-year special event that is over and done with the moment one’s exhausted head hits the pillow some time early in the morning.  It is forgotten before all of the Easter eggs – real and chocolate – are consumed.  And then the search for the next potentially exciting event begins.

"The Risen Lord is as present among us today as He was when He appeared to the eleven disciples behind “closed doors” for the first time..."

The Risen Christ appeared to His disciples for forty days following His Resurrection.  He did not depart from them into Heaven immediately.  I believe that we can assume that the disciples remained “excited” (to use an inadequate word) for that entire period – and beyond.  

We have a forty-day Paschal Season in the Church for this reason.  As the disciples rejoiced in the Lord’s presence, the same possibility is before us as we too rejoice in the Lord’s presence, since it is the Lord who promised to be with us “until the end of the world.”  The Risen Lord is as present among us today as He was when He appeared to the eleven disciples behind “closed doors” for the first time and then again eight days later as recounted by St. John in his Gospel (JN. 20:19-29).  

Everyone, beginning with the clergy, probably suffers from the “post-paschal blues” to some extent.  We must rely on our faith and trust that our Lord Jesus Christ has been bodily raised from the dead, the “first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I COR. 15:20), in order to revive us to the joy of this unique season in which the Church resounds with the paschal exclamation that “Christ is Risen!”


*** I actually wrote the above meditation about three years ago, if I am not mistaken.  Since we face the same identical challenges today, I believe that it is still "relevant" - to use a term I am not very fond of using.  

"Keeping alive the "paschal spirit" inevitably gets down to what each person actually believes is the most important truth that we live by..."

Be that as it may, I also realize that what I write can sound abstract; or something like a string of clunky clichés or pious platitudes.  Sometimes that is hard to avoid when trying to make a series of points that I believe are timely and realistic. No reason to get "fancy" or indulge in pseudo-theological rhetoric. I am not that sure that I can be more specific about keeping alive the "paschal spirit." Inevitably, it gets down to what each person actually believes is the most important truth that we live by, are committed to, and by which we shape our personal "worldview."

As a priest, I am not simply trying to convince parishioners to "come to church more often," as if church attendance solves all of our ecclesial and non-ecclesial challenges.  Rather, I want each of us to "think hard" about the place of the Resurrection of Christ in our lives so that we can further think of just to what extent that belief impacts on our lives. 

My personal opinion is that if one believes that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead following his crucifixion, then there cannot be anything conceivably or remotely as important as that faith in determining how we now look at life and how we now actually shape our lives.  That faith is not simply a "game-changer;" but a massive paradigm shift that is nothing short of being a "new creation."

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins .. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." (I COR. 15:17,20)