I'm just back from the Easter Vigil Mass in the Holy Spirit church, Ballymun.
I remember, when I was in school, being surprised when I was told that Easter was the most important part of the Christian calendar. Surely that was Christmas? A lot more fuss was made about Christmas, wasn't it?
And ever since then, I've felt a recurring regret that Easter seems like such an anti-climax in comparison with Christmas.
But I am beginning to feel differently. This is the third Easter Vigil I've attended, and the solemn grandeur of the occasion has grown on me. The paschal fire outside the church, defiantly asserting the ancient faith against the passing cars and the suburban facelessness all around; the procession back to the church, and the tender light of the individual candles dotting the gloom; the whole of salvation history laid out like a vast map, in the Old Testament readings; the breathless suspense of that first Easter morning brought to life in the Gospel reading ("He is not here, he is risen"); the renewal of the baptismal vows, with the stirring repudiation of the Devil and "all his empty show"; the strangely palpable sense of communion with all the Christians who handed the light of faith onto us down the centuries; the unique sense of catharsis and of renewal at the end of the Mass, as the congregation say their good-humoured farewells and head out into the night.
(Although I am rather sad that none of the Easter Vigils I have attended, as far as I can remember, have included the litany of the saints that I noticed in the misalette this evening. I was especially sad about this when I saw that it includes my own favourite saint, St. Athanasius, the badass champion of Nicean orthodoxy.)
I remember, when I was about seventeen, reading a translation of The Iliad by E.V. Rieu. Rieu's introduction tackled a problem that had already occurred to me; why did the ancient Greeks prize The Iliad, which seemed like a rather monotonous saga of clanking swords, over The Odyssey, which was full of romance and contrast and picturesque detail, and which had become a template for virtually ever account of physical and emotional journeying ever since, from Joyce's Ulysses to the Cohen Brothers' Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
I don't remember much from Rieu's translation, but I do remember the verdict he passed in his introduction; yes, he had come to decide that the ancient Greeks were right, and the less obviously appealing Iliad was actually the better work.
In the same way, though I have loved Christmas from my earliest days, and though I love it as much now as I ever did...I think I am beginning to take a deeper and more solemn joy in tonight's even holier feast. The secular world cannot enter into the joy of Easter as it enters into the joy of Christmas, because Easter is too pure and otherworldly for it; there is little for it to grab hold of. But that is all the more reason for Christians to love it.
Happy Easter to you all, and may this sacred time of year inspire us all to strengthen our commitment to our blessed Lord! And may all those who do not profess his name come to follow him! Amen.