April 1, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Easter joy flows from experience of God’s mercy

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Easter is the season of joy. It’s the time of year when we celebrate the great mystery of our redemption, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.

Easter joy is different from other kinds of joy. It is rooted in an experience of liberation or release.

The joy of Easter is like the feeling a prisoner has when he learns he has unexpectedly been set free. It is like the overwhelming happiness parents experience when they are told that their seriously ill child is now cancer-free. Easter joy is like the excitement long-separated lovers have when they are finally reunited. It is like the emotion felt by a father when he sees his prodigal son, or daughter, returning home and being reunited with the family after many years away.

Easter joy overshadows all anxiety and fear. It allows us to breathe easily and let go of burdens that weigh us down. The risen Lord tells his disciples—and us—to let go of fear. His love has conquered every evil, including our own sins and the sins of the world. We can rejoice now because the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus have set us free. We can be at peace now because nothing—not even death—can separate us from God’s love and mercy.

Easter joy flows from the experience of God’s mercy, from the forgiveness of our sins and the absolution we have received from the Father whose face is mercy. It is the experience of heartfelt gratitude that flows from an act of undeserved kindness given to us with no strings attached. Easter joy is our response to the grace of God—freely given and totally unmerited—simply because God loves us, and wants us to be happy with him forever.

During this Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asks that we reflect on the joy of the Gospel, and “the delightful and comforting joy” of sharing the Good News with others.

Easter is the perfect time to encounter the risen Lord in the Scriptures, in the sacraments (especially the holy Eucharist) and in our encounters with our brothers and sisters in Christ. “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice,” Pope Francis teaches in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” #5). We can rejoice because we have been set free, and when we share this Good News with others—especially those who are weighed down by life’s burdens—our joy increases exponentially!

Sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt and despair are all too common in our society (even in our families). The Gospel shows us countless occasions when Jesus responded with compassion and healing to all forms of mental, physical and spiritual illness in the people of his day by curing them, and setting them free from whatever burdens they carried. We also read in the Scriptures that the risen Lord commanded his disciples (us) to go out into the whole world and proclaim the joyful Good News of our salvation.

Easter joy is active, not passive. It’s not simply a good feeling; it’s an enthusiastic response, in action, to the great liberating gift we have received from our loving and merciful God. Easter joy is contagious; it cannot be held inside, but must be shared with others. Pope Francis assures us that Easter joy, like life itself, “grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” #10).

This is the Easter paradox: Joy comes not by satisfying our desires for comfort, security or pleasure. It comes to us through self-sacrificing love, even a martyr’s death. The great mystery of Christ’s resurrection is that it alone had the power to overcome the paralyzing grasp of sin and evil. His passion, death and resurrection set us free. This is the supreme act of mercy, the ultimate expression of God’s unconditional love for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Easter joy flows from the boundless love and mercy of the Triune God. May our hearts always be open to this saving grace. May we embrace this holy season of Easter with hearts full of gratitude. May our Easter joy compel us to share with others the Good News of our redemption in Christ. May it strengthen us in our service to others, both close to home and far away. †

Local site Links: