The Gospel reading for the Easter vigil begins with the words “On the first day of the week”, and Easter has always been the premier day of the Christian faith, the one on which so many days and weeks depend. Before Easter Day itself you have the three days of the Triduum when we recall the intensity and drama of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Easter Day is also the beginning of the eight days before Jesus appeared to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room and showed them the wounds of his suffering.
Before Easter come the forty days of Lent, when we relive the unfolding history leading up to Salvation. And after Easter we have the Season of Easter, another forty days up to the Ascension, and ten days later, the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Numbers played an important role in the belief system of the early Church. Even the figure of twelve Apostles is a symbolic measure of perfection; so much so that when one of the number turns out to be a bad apple, it's considered essential to find a replacement – Matthias – in order to maintain the quality of completeness within the leadership of the new movement, “the Way”, as they called themselves.
In the customs and ceremonies of the Church, the Season of Easter gets much less emphasis than Lent. But in spiritual terms it is at least as significant as the period of penance and charity which precedes it.
And we can see this in the Gospel readings chosen for these weeks.
Initially, Jesus deals with the doubts, first of Thomas – material doubts as to the veracity of his reappearance; then with the stain which is harder to shift, the problem of Peter, struggling with his sense of having betrayed his master.
Jesus tells Peter “guard my sheep”, and the following week speaks again about the flock of which he is the shepherd, and he reassures us: they will never be lost.
He concludes with the pregnant phrase “The Father and I are one”; and then we hear his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”. In the next reading he says “If anyone loves me he will keep my word”; and this is when he promises to send “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit”.
We are working towards Pentecost, and the pressure is building, to become one with Jesus. After the Ascension, the call is made with full force: “Father, I have given them the glory that you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one”. And at Pentecost we hear it repeated: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word”, adding “and the Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him”.
It's clear therefore, that Jesus wants us to become one with him, to share his glory, to spread his word, to accept his love. Not to imitate Christ, as was encouraged in Medieval times, because imitation involves comparisons, and Christ who is beyond comparison, simply wants a place to rest his head, and has chosen us. Nor are we to resort to feeling guilty and unworthy, as happens to so many of us during Lent. The point is not that we are sinners but that sin has been overcome by love, and we are no longer living in the recollection of past troubles, but sharing the hopeful expectation of a time beyond recriminations.
So why do we feel so torn apart by this new spiritual experience of after-Easter time (after eight, you might say)? I guess it has to do with our ongoing failure to look after the world as responsibly as we were meant to. The planet is heading for destruction, unless we learn to love one another as Christ has loved us. The call is to become one with him; to share his glory. Now the glory of Christ turns out to be a bitter cup to swallow. And yet it is – truly – glorious. Astonishing, isn't it!
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see