“If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1).
Pascha takes far more work than Lent. Yes, it is tough giving up meat and wine for forty days. It is a strain examining one’s conscience, repenting from addictions, and embracing death to self. Yet, this is easy, compared to our work during Paschaltide: to lift up and keep one’s heart in paradise. It is the greater challenge to be in a constant state of gratitude and awe — to cherish God every moment of the day.
“It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.”
With these lyrics, the English rock band, Rolling Stones, describe the way St. Thomas must have felt. The disciples were ecstatic. They had seen the Lord. They were singing, “Christ is Risen.” But for Thomas, the world about looked as ordinary as it did every other day. In fact, things felt pretty bleak. Everyone’s happiness was a little irritating. Life was cast in grey.
“[Thomas] was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24-25).
Jesus appears to Thomas in the next passage. Thomas touches the marks in his Lord’s hands. He sees the scar on Jesus’ side. Thomas is jubilant. But step back for a moment. Notice one short phrase before Christ’s revelation. “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them” (John 20:26). A whole week went by before Thomas saw Jesus. Seven days dragged on first. That does not sound like long. But seven days is a lifetime when you are depressed. Seven days is eternity when everything you love is taken from you, when you have lost all sense of meaning, when the whole world is black.
The first Sunday after Pascha is the Sunday of Doubting Thomas. Is this not striking? Last Sunday, we chanted the gospel about an empty tomb, shimmering light, and an angel proclaiming: “He is risen!” This Sunday, we chant a passage about a grumpy, downhearted fellow. He looks around, shrugs his shoulders, and sighs, “How can I believe?”
St. Thomas represents the struggle in all of us to accept the reality of the resurrection. St. Thomas embodies the path that we must all follow — to discover the pascal joy by reaching out to touch God.
Pascha is a challenge. The observance of Lent is nearly lost in the American Church. As a boy, I rarely even heard about Lent. A few strange friends mentioned that they gave up sweets for the 40 days. One buddy of mine said he gave up beer and only drank whisky. That is about as deep as our culture goes during Lent. This is the second greatest tragedy of contemporary Christianity. The single greatest tragedy is that we have entirely lost the observance of Paschaltide. There are some who fast for 40 days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Very few feast for 40 days following our Lord’s Resurrection. This is our urgent challenge. We need to rediscover the art of feasting.
Early this week, I was moved by two verses from Psalm 63, which say everything about Pascha:
“As long as I live will I magnify thee on this manner, and lift up my hands in thy Name. My soul shall be satisfied, even as it were with marrow and fatness, when my mouth praiseth thee with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:5-6).
The scriptures talk a lot about fat.
In Genesis 45:18, God promises the Israelites: “Take your father and your households and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you will eat the fat of the land.”
In Nehemiah 8:10, our Lord commands the people, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
“My soul shall be satisfied, even as it were with marrow and fatness.”
I have to confess, I used to feel weirded out by these passages until I learned about the keto diet. For all these years, they have been telling us to trim our fat and give up the savory parts of the meal, and it turns out the fat was never the problem. The processed flour, the sugar, and the carbs are what have been killing us. The healthy diet involves a great deal of fat: butter, whole cream, marbled steak, bacon. These are the foods that really satisfy. This is how the scriptures describe the resurrection feast. The life in God is a life of savoring.
How must we celebrate life through the 40 days of Pascha? We have to learn to see everything in our life as a gift from God. Every moment is pregnant with this potential.
How do you wake up in the morning? From the age of 33 until her death at 102, the first thing, when my grandmother rose from bed, she recited this line: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” How do we start the day? That first moment, when your feet hit the floor, is your opportunity to put on your glasses — I do not mean your reading glasses — the glasses through which we see the world — tinted in rose or tinted in dung.
How do we go about our work? I knew a monk who, whenever he did the laundry, glowed as though he were in paradise. He would breathe in the clean, fragrant clothes and marvel. You could literally feel the worship flowing out of him while he gave thanks to God for all the small things.
How do you sit down for a meal? In his book, Theology of Food, Angel Mendez-Montoya provides the Christian definition of hunger. Hunger is not primarily about satisfying some mechanical, biological need. Hunger is our intrinsic “desire for God that is satisfied in the materiality of a world blessed by God.” Hunger is a gift put in us which craves to experience the beauty of God woven into the banquet of life. Every dining table is a little altar. Every meal is a divine encounter and doxological celebration.
The 40 days of Pascha must shine out above every other season.
It is the time of the year for us to start living a Eucharistic Life — a life of adoration and thanks. Thomas doubted. He struggled to accept the resurrection. He was glum when everyone else celebrated. He is us in our struggles to find joy, but Thomas did not keep his head down. He refused to be satisfied with anything less than the full picture. He reached out, strained his hands, until he could touch God. We must be little Thomas’s in our lives. Reach out and encounter God.
Open your eyes and see God in light and colors.
Train your ears to hear eternity in music and the sounds of nature.
Exercise your will to taste God’s abundance in every bite and every drink.
Teach yourself daily habits of giving thanks to God.
This is the resurrection life for which we are called to live.
“If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God: set your affection on things above” (Colossians 3:1-2).