How do you usually spend Easter? You might go to the vigil to immerse yourself in the readings and celebrate with the catechumens as they are baptized into Christ. You might go to Easter morning Mass and delight in the sight of children dressed in their very best. Perhaps you gather afterward with family and friends for a special brunch or dinner. At the end of the day, you are happy. You may also be a bit tired.
We treasure and celebrate Easter Sunday. But Easter is not just one day; it’s an entire season that lasts for fifty days, right up to Pentecost. During that time, God is inviting us in a special way to be changed by Jesus’ resurrection, just as Peter, Mary Magdalene, John, and the other apostles were changed that first Easter season. God is inviting us to take in as much of his grace—the grace of a new life—as we can.
Every Lent, many people prepare for Easter by observing the three traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Maybe we can decide to do something a bit different during the Easter season as we prepare for the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Rather than observing forty days of penance for our sins, let’s consider how we can observe fifty days of celebration because Jesus has raised us from death to new life. So let’s think of how our celebration can help us become more open to the Spirit and the gifts he wants to give us. Below are a few ideas you can consider.
Ponder the Words of the Risen Christ. During Lent and Holy Week, many people meditate on the seven last words of Christ as he hung on the cross. Maybe this Easter, you can reflect on the words of the risen Christ. You can find these words in the Easter accounts in the four Gospels and in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. These are Jesus’ last parting thoughts and his directions, not only to his first generation of disciples, but to us as well. Choose one of these sayings and meditate on it.
For example, you can meditate on Jesus’ words when he appeared to Thomas and the other disciples: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27). That could lead into a reflection on how your faith has changed and grown over the years. Or you could place yourself with the apostles when Jesus first appeared and said, “Peace be with you” (20:19).
In your imagination, picture Jesus saying the same words to you. What does he look like? What are you feeling as you hear these words? How can you take these words into your life more fully? Think, also, about writing your reflections in a prayer journal so that you can review them from time to time.
Or think of the scene in John 21, when Jesus appears to Peter and some other disciples while they are fishing. What do you say to Jesus when he asks you, “Do you love me?” What does it mean for your life when Jesus says, “Feed my sheep” (21:17)? Hear the Lord speaking these very words to you, and tell him whatever is on your heart.
Pray through the Book of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles is the story of how the risen Jesus sent his Spirit to empower the first Christians to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). Just as the Spirit was present in those early years of the Church, so he is active and present today. Reading the Acts of the Apostles can help raise our expectations that God will guide and empower us, just as he did the first disciples.
During the Easter season, the Church draws from the Book of Acts for the readings at Mass. Because Acts is one of the longest books in the New Testament, not all the verses are included at Mass. So on those days when portions are left out, make sure you read those verses as well. Acts is an exciting account of God’s work, filled with preaching that brought thousands to Christ and amazing signs and wonders that reveal God’s power and love. As you pray through Acts, watch especially for how the Holy Spirit directed the apostles as they proclaimed, beyond their comfort zones, the good news of the resurrection.
For example, in chapter 10, the Holy Spirit gives Peter an incredible dream that tells him not to consider the Gentiles unclean any longer (Acts 10:10-16, 28). Then Peter is summoned to the house of a Gentile soldier named Cornelius, and as Peter preaches the good news there, the Spirit falls on Cornelius and his entire household. Peter discovers that the power of the resurrection can change anyone, even a Gentile!
Share a Meal. As you read Acts, you will see that most of the first Christians lived in community. They prayed together, ate their meals together, and shared their resources so that no one would be in need. For the most part, we don’t live that way today in our parishes, but God has called us together as one body, and we strengthen that body when we find opportunities to spend time together. Sharing a meal with family or friends is a beautiful way to continue your celebration of the resurrection. Not only are you entering more fully into the joy of the season, but you are also spreading that joy to others. Besides, have you noticed how many times Jesus ate with his apostles after he rose (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:28-34; 24:36-43; John 21:9-13)?
So if you’ve been putting off having that new couple from church over after Mass, now is your chance. Or if you have been thinking about asking the single mom down the street to join you for dinner, go ahead and do it. Don’t let your busy schedule stop you. You don’t have to prepare an elaborate meal, and you don’t even have to host it at your house—the local pancake house or diner is fine. What’s most important is the time spent together.
You could make the meal memorable by asking everyone present to share a small blessing from the past week. Even those who are not practicing their faith, or who don’t believe in God, enjoy sharing something for which they are especially grateful. And it’s both uplifting and encouraging to hear others share how they have been blessed.
Prepare for Pentecost. The Easter season culminates with Pentecost, that great day when the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles. And with the coming of the Spirit came a host of gifts that empowered them and drew them closer together.
It has been traditional to take the nine days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost to pray a novena to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the word “novena” comes from the Latin word for nine. This is the perfect time to ask the Holy Spirit to help you be more aware of his presence in your life. Even if your prayer has felt dry or your faith seems to have lost some of its confidence, you can still use these nine days to ask God to give you more of his Spirit, just as he did at your baptism and confirmation.
You can also use this time to ask the Spirit for specific gifts, like the ones in Isaiah 11:1-2 or 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Or you might ask for a specific “fruit of the Spirit,” like the ones listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Pray about what you most need, and ask God what he most wants to give you. Maybe it’s a gift of healing or of intercessory prayer. Perhaps he wants to give you more wisdom or self-control or a gentler spirit. Don’t be shy about asking! God is generous. As the prophet Joel wrote, God wants to pour out his Spirit “upon all flesh” (Joel 3:1; Acts 2:17). That includes each one of us!
A Season of Grace. God fully intends to bring you closer to him this Easter season. It may be through taking up one of these four suggestions, or it may be through something else that comes to you in prayer. Whatever you choose to do, remember this: Easter is a season of God’s grace. It’s not only about what you do. It’s also about God pouring more of his divine life in you. It’s about the power of Jesus’ resurrection changing your life.
So raise your expectations this Easter! Christ is risen, and he is close to you. “Lord, we open our hearts to receive everything that you want to give to us!”