Why is it so hard for some people to maintain a spirit of celebration? I ask this knowing that I am one such person. I find the struggles of everyday life and the penitence of the Lenten season easier than seven weeks of Easter celebration. As a lay minister, I have spent hours focused on programs and activities for Lent, then collapsed the day after Easter. One day of celebration was all I could handle.
Who can keep up a party atmosphere that long? Who can keep up the Easter spirit for seven weeks? And yet that is what the Church asks of us each year. We spend six weeks of Lent getting ready for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Then we are to spend seven weeks celebrating this important season. Many, like me, fail miserably.
That is why I gave myself the challenge to focus on how to keep the Easter spirit all seven weeks until Pentecost. It was hard not to fall back into Lenten struggles or shift ahead into Ordinary Time. I struggled to come up with ideas but eventually thought of seven ways to keep focused on Easter, one for each week of the season.
Week One: Decorate for the Season
Eggs are symbols of new life. As a child, I loved the tradition of coloring Easter eggs. However, with four siblings, if Mom hard-boiled two dozen eggs, that only gave us each four or five eggs to decorate. I would take time trying to create the most amazing designs and colors, only to have my masterpieces cracked and gone in a day or two as Mom made egg salad and came up with other ways to use the eggs.
Then Mom heard about blowing out the inside of the egg, leaving the shell to be decorated. Throughout Lent, whenever she made cookies or cake or anything requiring eggs, she would enlist our aid to blow out the whites and yellows inside. Using a needle, she poked a hole in the top and bottom, trying to break the yolk to make it come out easier. We would blow until our cheeks hurt and all that was left was an empty shell. By Holy Saturday we had several dozen eggs to decorate.
Mom sent us outside to get a small tree branch with lots of twigs; then we threaded the eggs and hung them on the branches, creating an Easter-egg tree. As our collection of Easter eggs grew, Mom would use the extras to fill a glass basket and place it on the table as a centerpiece, thus filling our house with new life. At the end of Easter, the eggs were carefully packed away until the next year.
I didn’t continue this tradition with my children, and I continue to be lax in my decorations. Easter comes and goes before I know it each year, despite my good intentions. However, if this one fails, there are other ways to celebrate the Easter season.
Week Two: Read the Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles is full of adventure and fearless heroes of the faith! During the Easter season, readings from the Old Testament are replaced by the Acts of the Apostles as we focus on the early Church.
The early years of Christianity were a roller-coaster ride. First, there were those post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, as he slipped in and out, going through closed doors, walking with apostles on the road to Emmaus, and showing up while they were fishing. Then there was Pentecost with the coming of the Spirit in wind and tongues of fire. After Pentecost, the apostles had adventures of their own. They were fearless in proclaiming the faith, which consequently led to them spending time in jail.
Read through the Acts of the Apostles. Feel free to skip over the speeches, including Peter’s, to get to the fun stuff. One man fell three stories from a window after falling asleep while Paul was speaking (Acts 20:9); Paul healed him and went on talking until dawn. There were miraculous healings, multiple Baptisms, times in jail and jailbreaks (Acts 5:17–26; 12:6–11), the story of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7), and the story of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) and ensuing adventures spreading the Gospel. You need look no further for fun stories to share with your children. It’s better than the X-Men and gives them real-life heroes to emulate!
Week Three: Spring Cleaning
When I was growing up, the Easter Bunny hid candy in our basement. This meant we kids had to clean the basement because the bunny wouldn’t leave candy in a dirty basement. Thus, my mom got her basement cleaned and a jump on her spring cleaning.
I was not as successful as my mom at getting my kids to clean the house each year. I’m not a fan of cleaning, but I do enjoy that first cleaning that comes with warm weather. I throw open the windows and breathe in God’s good air, cleansing my mind, reinvigorating my spirit, redecorating my soul.
It’s never too early or too late to open the windows of our soul and allow the wind of God’s spirit to blow through. It’s never too early or too late to allow God to clean or redecorate our conscience. So, celebrate the season by allowing God to blow through the dark and cluttered spaces of your spirit.
Week Four: Remember Mom
It didn’t really hit me that I was a mother until that Mother’s Day after my twin daughters were born. I was now a mom with a capital M. My son didn’t bring the total disruption that two additional babies brought into my life. That was my apprenticeship. One baby had been too easy, so I needed the three to bring the reality home. Having three in diapers at the same time was the real deal.
As a child, I remember homemade cards and trying to come up with new ways to surprise my mom on Mother’s Day. As a mother, I received them with delight, but also as my right. I had earned them! As a grandmother, I watch my daughters adjust to the world with a baby in tow, entering their own apprenticeship.
You don’t have to be a mother to appreciate the mothers in your life. Spend time remembering those alive and deceased, our biological mothers as well as adoptive mothers, spiritual mothers, aunts, or teachers. Even if the memories are sad if your mother is no longer alive, there is a reason to pause, celebrate, and reflect on how God is mother to us as well as father.
Week Five: Plant a Garden
Getting your hands dirty in God’s good earth is beneficial for your spirit! I attempted a garden when my children were young. I had visions of them assisting me in this endeavor, providing our table with fresh vegetables. However, they never took to the idea, leaving me alone in the hot sun, pulling weeds while they retreated to the shade and played. And then, when the vegetables were ready for harvest, I had more than we could eat so I had to seek out neighbors willing to take the excess off my hands. I finally decided it was not worth the effort. I gave up my garden and waited for neighbors to share their bounty with me!
May 15 is the feast day of St. Isidore, patron saint of farmers. We can learn a lot from farmers; they know their need for God. They plant seeds, pull weeds, then depend on the vagaries of the weather to grow their crops. They are aware of the importance of work: A garden doesn’t grow in a day but is the result of hard work, inch by inch, day by day. They do their work then wait for God to do the rest, a lesson for all of us.
Besides the benefit of producing food and flowers, there are physical and psychological benefits associated with gardening. Being out in nature and digging in dirt are healing to the mind, body, and spirit. You don’t have to have a large garden to benefit from gardening. A small herb garden will suffice, or plant some flowers. I always look for the hardiest flowers and shrubs for my yard and home, ones that thrive despite neglect, for I’m not the best gardener.
In addition, you can start a spiritual garden during any season. Tend and nurture with prayer, kind words, and good deeds. Pull out the weeds of jealousy, greed, envy, pride, vanity, gluttony, and unchecked anger. Ask God to water your garden with the blessings God so freely bestows.
Week Six: Pray for Unity and Peace
Before Jesus went to his death, he prayed at the Last Supper “that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11b). He prayed for his Church, for all of us who would come after him in faith—a great prayer for unity. When Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection, his first words were, “Peace be with you.”
The early Church at first experienced a time of peace and unity: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). This was a unity we can only dream about in our country so divided by partisan politics.
When Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection, his first words were, ‘Peace be with you.’”
The unity of that early community was short-lived, as we read shortly after this passage about Ananias, who sold a piece of property and gave only part of the proceeds to the apostles. Perhaps this is only a unity to be dreamed about, not realistic in light of our human tendencies. But if so, it is worth praying and yearning for.
Perhaps the peace we are searching for is as elusive as that unity that Jesus prayed for, which is all the more reason to spend time in prayer for both. So, as we await the celebration of Pentecost, it is fitting that we, too, pray for unity and peace.
Week Seven: Look Up
There’s a story I read about a grandfather giving his troubled grandson a kite. The grandson asked him years later why he had given him the kite. “I wanted you to have a reason to look up,” the grandfather responded. Amid all of his troubles—amid all of our troubles—it can help to look up to the sky and remember there is more to this world than what we are experiencing.
I never was good at flying kites as a kid. As an adult I tried to help my children in this venture but failed miserably. But you don’t have to fly a kite to enjoy being outside on a windy day. You don’t have to know how to sail a boat to enjoy riding in one under someone else’s competent hands. You could float a small sailboat on a pond, just sit and enjoy the breeze against your face, or listen to the wind as spring thunderstorms break out, disturbing the quiet and electrifying the air.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles were left looking up into the sky. It’s hard to feel down when looking up. Jesus didn’t leave them alone. He left them with each other and the promise of God’s spirit.
With seven weeks to Pentecost, these are seven ways to maintain the spirit of Easter. And so we are left gazing at the sky, gazing upon God’s creation as we await the outpouring of God’s spirit at Pentecost.