IT’S EASTER Sunday! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the key event central to our Christian faith. Someone calls it the heart of the gospel message. In the words of Carl Knudsen, “The story of Easter is the story of God’s wonderful window of divine surprise.”
How better to describe what happened early that first Easter morning when the women brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus. But they did not find Him there. The tomb was empty. The stone had been rolled away. We have heard the story many times. And each time we are filled with wonder.
The joy and significance of Easter is still commemorated today over 2,000 years later. Each one may have a different way of remembering, may differ in the manner we understand the resurrection. But at the root of all the joyous revelry is the good news—“He is risen!”
I remember Easter Sunday as the highlight of summer vacation. In Baclaran, we dressed up early for High Mass at the little Redemptorist Church near the beach. I was never one of the little girls dressed in angel costumes who brought flowers to the altar. Sometimes I wondered why.
Instead I stayed up in the choir loft with the singers, loving every note they sang. Although I was too young to be one of them, I memorized the lyrics of the Kyrie, Gloria, and Credo in Latin. On a breezy day I was asked to put my finger on the music sheets so they wouldn’t be blown away. This made me feel important. In charge of Misa Cantada was Victorina Lobregat, a prominent piano teacher. She was strict and seldom smiled. But she was really a sweet lady.
Many years later I heard that beautiful music again while on a touristy adventure in Carmel by the Sea. We were touring the sacristy of an old mission church while Mass was going on. I let out a squeal of delight when I heard the first strains of the Kyrie.
I was once again that little “salimpusa” in the choir loft. Our guide gave me dagger looks as I softly (I thought) sang along, while he tried to explain that Fr. Junipero Serra was buried under the sanctuary.
Because I grew up in the Philippines and in a convent school, Easter always had a churchy feel about it. It was, after all, the end of a season of penance and prayer.
Living in the United States for so many years, however, introduced us to the Easter bunny. It was a busy time. There were cards to send, eggs to color, and pretty baskets to fill up with goodies. It was festive and lots of fun. But it distracted our focus from the true and deeper meaning of such a momentous feast.
Easter celebrations vary according to tradition. In France they make chocolate eggs, and on Easter morning, when church bells start ringing, legend claims, they appear as if by magic in the children’s baskets. In Poland, back in the day, young ladies were chased down the streets on Easter morning and sprinkled with perfumed water. Now they have water fights instead.
In the United Kingdom, the typical pastry is a hot cross bun filled with fruit and spices. The Ukraine has a special egg and yam casserole that looks like a deep-dish omelet. In Brazil, during Holy Week, they make straw figurines of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, and people fall in line to beat him up and eventually burn him.
Our understanding of Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday was from the Spanish colonizers and friars. Even today they say that the biggest and most colorful celebrations are held in Spain, where every city, town and pueblecito goes all out to observe Semana Santa and welcome Domingo de Pascua. It is their most important feast of the year, given sometimes more fanfare than Christmas and El Dia de Reyes.
Tourism hits an all-time high during the Lenten season. People from all over the world join processions and walk alongside life-size figures of Christ and the Mater Dolorosa. Penitents (nazarenos) wear pointed hats (picarotes), hoods with masks to hide their identities, and sometimes walk on their bare feet to atone for their sins.
The somber mood of Semana Santa ends on Easter Sunday with bells pealing at sunrise, loud and lively music, dancing, and showers of flower petals.
One of the most fascinating celebrations is held in the town of Hellin, in Albacete. This feast is huge and people from all around come to watch. They look forward to the thunderous Tamborada, with up to 20,000 drums playing until midnight of Jueves Santo.
After the deafening roar of tamborada, there is deep silence. On Friday the Santo Entierro takes place. The drums play one last time on Saturday, and on Resurrection Sunday, the pall of gloom is lifted when hundreds of doves are set free and take to the sky.
The story of Easter Sunday gives us hope.
Imagine the scenes that unfolded on Calvary. Think of the followers of Christ who believed and trusted Him, and pinned their hopes on this promised Messiah. They must have stared at the cross in disbelief.
The man they had followed and trusted was now gone. They saw him rejected, mocked, crucified, killed. Tearfully, they watched when He was entombed, a huge stone rolled into place to keep him there forever. Of course, they mourned. They felt hopeless, frightened, and in deep despair.
Then, suddenly—Sunday morning!
If there is anything at all that Easter teaches us, even unbelievers, it is that our darkest hour is not forever; that the night is blackest just before the break of dawn; that out of death and devastation, a new life is born. Think of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon. All you need is one little ray of light to pierce your darkness. Look up! There is hope, always.