The true meaning of Easter – love or judgement?

I love Easter. It is my absolute favourite time in the Christian calendar and it has nothing to do with bunnies or chocolate. Its that love the Easter Tridium. That’s it. I love Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (or if I’m lucky, the Saturday night Vigil). These three days summarise the very basis of the faith of the church – my faith. Every year, I feel so invigorated by the message of Jesus, I question my life, the way I live, and what I could be doing to love God through my life even more. This year was no different.

However I came across a feeling I am also familiar with at this time of year – feelings of shame. Not shame for my faith, but shame for the message that often comes across through from a member of the clergy which often rears it’s head at Easter. This year, it was the fill in priest at the Parish I have been attending recently. He said, right at the end, these words

It is wonderful to see so many of you here. Jesus is truly alive in each and every one of us, and that is why we are here. But we do not celebrate Easter just once a year. Easter is celebrated EVERY Sunday. If you do not come to Mass every Sunday, through your own fault, then you are committing a serious offense, and you should not be receiving Holy Communion. The Church allows us to miss Mass on a Sunday for only three reasons. 1. If we are sick. 2. If we are caring for a sick person. or 3. If there is no Priest to celebrate the Mass. For any other reason, you are committing a sin. Let us give Jesus our time every week, and continue this fervour, this passion throughout the year.

I can fully understand the frustration that a Priest might feel every Easter when the Church’s are full to overflowing, and yet there are empty pews every other Sunday of the year. However I do not believe that shaming those people who have not come every Sunday is the best way to encourage them to start doing so. Even though I do go every Sunday (except for any of those three reasons), I felt embarrassed for those people who do not, and I was, honestly, angry that the message of Easter had changed so dramatically. Is Easter really the time to be hounding people? Easter, in my view, should be a time of reflection of the importance of our faith in our life. If the message is still as true today as it was 2000 years ago, then surely we don’t need to be guilting people into Church attendance. The inspiration, faith and experience of Christ in their life should be enough.

Jesus taught a message of love to the people. He did away with all the “shoulds” and “should nots”.  In fact, it was because of all the “shoulds” and “should nots” that Jesus died in the first place. The Pharisees were threatened by someone claiming to be of God, who went against everything that they taught about how to live a devoted life. Wasn’t it Jesus who sided with those outcasted by the religious leaders of the day, teaching them about how much God loves them anyway? Yet here we are, on Easter Sunday, being hounded by all that we “should” be doing according to the Church.

Pope Francis this Easter said there was a need to recover “the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the Earth”. How are we to rekindle a fire, if, whenever a person returns to the Church, a wet blanket is thrown over them? If Jesus’ message is to inspire, then Easter needs to be about love, not judgement. It needs to be about how we can use the passion and fervour we find at Easter to change the world, not change what we do on a Sunday. If, in our commitment to bring Jesus to the world, we discover that the Church nourishes us and supports us, then wonderful.

The Francis effect has made me ponder about the message of love v. judgement in our church. For so long, we have become accustomed to the fact that the Church will attempt to guilt us into doing what it deems important, or worthy. It is interesting to note that the Pope has been so popular in the mainstream, not because he has changed much about the position of Church doctrine, but because he has a focus of service. St Francis of Assisi once said “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching”. It seems our Pope has appealed to the mainstream because of this truth. He is willing to get in amongst the people, he is willing to give up the usual luxuries afforded to a Pope, and he is willing to show the same compassion Christ showed the people of His day. In short he walks the walk. He hasn’t changed much about the position of the Church, but people are more willing to listen now that he has showed them that he is a genuine vessel of Christ.

There is a lesson here for the clergymen of the Church. People on the fringes of the church are not interested in hearing what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do. They want a genuine leader who they can see is walking the walk, and who meets them where they are at. Anything other than that leads to disillusionment. We need to be a Church that does just what Pope Francis is doing or else the message of Easter will get lost amongst the judgements. You can be sure, less people will come to Sunday Mass then!

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