The Peace of Eastertide

At 21 years old, I sat in a train car on a warm August afternoon that was winding its way through the mountainous French countryside on my way to Lourdes from Spain. World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid had ended, and I was on my way into France. I recorded the following as the train started to approach Lourdes:

“As soon as the train approached Lourdes I experienced this sudden sense of peace; I lost all desire to speak and just wanted to stay tranquil in silence. Our Lady watches over this place — I have been considerably impressed so far.”

I could tell that I was entering a sacred place because of the peace that greeted me as I approached. Such peace also greets us during this Eastertide, which is a sacred time for us Christians.

Every year I am struck by how the traditional chants of the Easter liturgies emphasize the peace that the resurrected Christ brings. They convey an important theological point: the victory of Christ over sin and death does not bring about clamorous jubilation, a noisy and raucous celebration, but the joyful and gentle peace brought about by the reconciliation of humanity and all creation to their Creator.

This is in stark contrast to the laments of the Good Friday liturgy, especially the Improperia: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Saviour to the cross.”

Moreover, for us Dominicans, the end of the sung passion narrative on Good Friday ends with the lamentation tone. We use the same tone when singing the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah during a special liturgy during the Sacred Triduum called “Tenebrae.”

By contrast, during the Easter liturgy, the distressing and sorrowful lamentations give way to the chants signifying the peace given to us by the Risen Christ: Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum, alleluia.—I am risen, and I am always with you, alleluia.

All of this should form the Catholic imagination and our way of looking at the world. Liturgically, sorrow and distress are overcome, not with a trumpet blaring glorification of victory, but the gentle peace offered by the meek and humble Christ who died and rose again to reconcile sinners to God.

Remember that when the presence of the Lord passed by the prophet Elijah, the Lord’s presence was not in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire, but in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). At that whisper, Elijah hid his face. Likewise, I could tell that God was present with me on that French train because of the gentle peace that came to me, a peace that the world could not give.

Now we encounter God’s presence in the Easter peace offered by the Risen Christ: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). That peace of Christ may appear too small and gentle to manifest God’s presence. We would rather try to find God in the clamorous celebration of the Easter victory. Instead, the liturgy directs us to the gentle whisper of Easter peace.

Fr. Joseph Selinger, O.P.