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Leader: Nurture the tender spark of joy

07 April 2009

IN HOLY WEEK and Easter, Christians contemplate the death and resurrection of our Lord. It is a time, consequently, of heightened emotions. It is notable that, for many, the experience of Christmas can be more traumatic. The constant pressure to be happy can be a greater strain than a season that expects believers to share in sorrow, too. It is common, none the less, to fail to catch the emotional tenor of this season. Many factors can conspire to empty Easter of its meaning: distractions by work or family, Lenten practices that were too severe or too slack, clumsy liturgy, or merely an unaccountable spiritual or emotional malaise. There is, after all, an element of artifice in the Christian calendar, and individual spiritual journeys do not run to the same timetable.

Spiritual counsellors routinely remind the anxious that feelings are unreliable indicators of the proximity of God. Wor­shippers cannot always feel at peace, and, in any case, all dare partake in the eucharist only in the belief that their un­worthiness is cancelled by God’s mercy. On many occasions the unworthiness looms large, and the belief seems non-existent. In such times, the elements of habit, duty, hope, and the en­couragement of others are woven together to form a thin bond with God. It is enough, since the bond is forged by God in the mysteries of the incarnation. And yet, even to older Christians, it sometimes does not seem enough. Many experience periods when, like Thomas, they feel a need to touch the wounds of Christ in order to prove the reality of the resurrection.

There are two ways in which the Church can help. First, it is vital that liturgy is of the highest quality, both in composition and delivery. A flash of insight, a moment of deeper communion — these can bring unimaginable comfort to a struggling believer. Second, the Church ought to be better at teaching that Easter is a season, not a day. Rather as at Christmas, there is a tendency for clergy and laity to collapse after the efforts of Holy Week and Easter Day. By Low Sunday, the choir is on holiday, as are many of the clergy, and the chance to absorb the glory of Easter is lost. This is unfortunate for the many who find the switch from despair to celebration at the end of Holy Week too sudden, and need time to adjust to a world in which alleluias can once more be said and meant. There is, of course, justification for exuberance and cheerfulness at this time. But, in the world that attempts to make Easter a weekend of thoughtless pleasure, the Church must be careful not blow too hard on the tender flame of joy that is the most that some can manage.

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