When I was in high school, the way Easter panned out always seemed bizarre to me. There’s a pretty huge build-up of suffering, penance and no coffee. Then we go to Church like four days in a row (weird), eat bunny shaped stuff (why), and go straight back to reality.
At least after Christmas, most of us have a few days off before returning to work. But no one is having one too many Lemon Drops at a tacky Easter sweater party. We probably don’t even send Easter cards. Easter, to me, seems to disappear right into the next week. It doesn’t linger. There’s no talk about having “Easter spirit”. Because of this, most of my life I ignored the long, glorious feast of the 50 days of Easter.
I never considered Easter to be as important as Christmas. Bear in mind, I’m not speaking from a theological standpoint. I’m speaking from the standpoint of a teenage guy, newly interested in his faith, trying to determine what’s important in his life.
We have months of Christmas music and decorations, movies, TV specials, and specially flavored Starbucks drinks. After Thanksgiving, you really can’t escape Christmas if you go out in public. Even in church circles, Christmas tends to stand alone as a time of year, far above any other holiday. So I was taught it was worth celebrating, and indeed it is.
I got the message of Christmas. Emmanuel. God is with us. I watched as the world changed what they ate, what music they listened to, and what their house looked like just to celebrate this. God is with us. God notices us, and loves us, and came to visit us. I got it.
But the message of Easter didn’t sink in. Freedom. God did something more powerful than any other act of love, ever. God set us free. I know it enough to rattle it off, but I didn’t understand it’s weight and merit.
So how has this affected my relationship with God?
For starters, I only saw Jesus as a friend. A good friend, even. However, I wasn’t interested in sainthood, because I didn’t think you’d change your whole life, or even worse, give your whole life, just for a friend. Of course, He’s not just Jesus our Really Good Friend Who Came to Visit, he’s Jesus our Redeemer. Jesus our Savior. Jesus our Ransom.
I understand this that is really basic. It’s just where I am right now. This past Lent I honestly felt God asking me to take my head out of big books (scandalous thought for some of you) and lofty ideas and focus on the simple. It’s because this is so basic that it’s worth repeating. If it’s basic, it’s a base, or foundation we can build on.
None of that mattered to me then, but it matters to me now because even though Jesus was a good friend, I saw myself as a really bad friend. And I thought that defined our relationship. He was a good friend; I was a bad friend. Being a good friend wasn’t an option for me though, because my sin made me a bad friend and I just couldn’t give that up. So, that was the essence of what I believed about myself and my faith. Jesus came to be with me. That’s what it’s all about – after all, we celebrate that for a couple of months at Christmas. But I screwed up the whole thing with my sin. And that is final. Period, end of story. Now I’m just going to live in that reality of ‘He’s awesome and I suck’, forever. I was aware of my own shortcomings – just not aware of what He’d done about it.
See, the nativity scene isn’t the last scene of the play, even though I had basically stopped paying attention there. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave was the final act. That would now define me relationship with him forever. He rescued me from my sin. I didn’t need to let my sin keep me in bondage anymore.
It’s this part that I didn’t let sink in. I knew this information in my head, but it had not sunk into my heart. See, I knew I was being held captive, but I thought I was stuck with these sins. I felt pretty bad about it too, because Jesus went so far out of His way to end up in that nativity scene for me. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I could go to confession and he’d wipe them away. I saw the crucifixes everywhere so I knew He took care of it. But I would commit them again, and the cycle would start over. It didn’t feel like freedom, it felt like captivity.
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to let freedom from sin be possible for me. I’m obviously not totally sin free – far, far from it. And perhaps while I’m on this Earth I’ll never be. But I don’t see every sin as just part of who I am anymore.
I pray for freedom now. I used to only pray for forgiveness. I didn’t even realize those two went together.
The Catechism tells us that by his cross, Christ won salvation for all of us. He redeemed us from the sins that kept us in bondage. We don’t have to be held captive any longer, even from that sin we’ve already decided we just can’t shake. Most of us know this – but for many of us, it hasn’t become real.
Still, even after I’ve heard this and accepted it, in many areas of my life it hasn’t become real. There are still struggles in my life that I have accepted as part of who I am, and have given up ever overcoming.
So, here’s what I’m doing about that this Easter season: I’m praying for that grace to flood my life. I’m praying, in the power of His blood and in the power of the empty tomb, that I would be able to turn away from sin. I’m fighting the temptation to become comfortable with my sin, to almost welcome it as the ‘neighbor I don’t like but have finally embraced because I know they aren’t going anywhere’.
I’m praying for freedom from the idea that my sins define me. Freedom from anger, selfishness, addiction, and anything else that threatens to override how we would hope to live. Freedom from the way I used to be. Freedom from all that holds me captive. And I’m not just asking for these things, but I’m proclaiming over my own life that it’s possible, not because of my power, but because of the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I’m running to the Sacraments. I’m letting Jesus’ actions mean something in my life. I’m letting His grace be sufficient. I’m letting his strength into my weaknesses. I’m taking action, trusting that Jesus’s action on that cross upon a hill 2,000 years ago gives me permission to. I’m trying to make that real in my life this Easter.
I’ve known of His sacrifice for me for some time now. But how often have I let that power be real in my life? If I’m not, with His help, becoming more free every Easter season, am I really celebrating it at all?
Dom Quaglia is a speaker and author based in Atlanta, GA. He serves as the Director and Host of XLT Atlanta, a monthly archdiocesan worship event. His speaking and writing have helped people of all ages lean further in to the Gospel and apply it to their lives, and his book "Man Enough: Lessons from St. Joseph on Becoming a Godly Man" can be found on his website domquaglia.com. When he's not on the road, he's eating Thai food and laying by the pool with his wife, Sarah and their two iPhones.