We don’t understand when we are young, that there are things in this world worth suffering and even dying for. Maybe we can only come to some approximation of what it means to live, suffer, and die for someone else. Years ago, a friend of mine told me about something that happened to him when he was a soldier in Vietnam. One night amidst rain and gunfire, he and some other GIs were shooting into the maze of noise and confusion when a grenade landed in their trench. One of the soldiers, without saying a word, just threw himself over the grenade saving his buddies and losing his own life. My friend later thought about what happened and couldn’t figure out why this guy did that. What was in him to sacrifice his life for the sake of others? When he finished his tour in Vietnam he came back to the states and the first thing he did was to go visit the parents of that soldier. With tears and a trembling voice all he could say to them was, “Thank you. Thank you for your son. I am here because of him.” My friend is now a father and a grandfather. He has a good life and he prays for that young soldier every night and tells others about him. He keeps his memory alive. He thanks God and lives his life with grateful joy.
Easter joy is living in gratitude for the gift of life, especially life that has come at a great price. Easter joy is understood in a special way by those who know what it means to have life because of the sacrifice of others. Easter is a joyful celebration of Jesus’ life lived for others, given for others. He lives on in a special way in the lives of all those who have followed in his path, some without even knowing it as seen in Matthew 25:31-40: “I was a hungry and you gave me food…”. He is risen; let us rejoice and be glad!
I know that he lives when I see him in the people around me. It is not about religion. It is about a man, a person who shows us our true nature and mission as sons and daughters of a loving and compassion God. For Catholics, we do this in a special way during the celebration of the Mass, the Eucharist (which by the way is the Greek word for “thanksgiving”). We remember Jesus and give thanks and praise to God for the gift of new life. His suffering and death was not in vain. Easter joy is living in God’s joy and finding ways to pass it on this hope and joy to others. It is the joy of giving life.