WHERE I STAND:

In 2021, meaning of Easter takes on new life

Note from Editor Brian Greenspun: I first met fellow Las Vegan Bill Kenny in 1964. He was a student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and I was in my first year at Georgetown. It was Thanksgiving at Mahlon Brown III’s house. Mahlon was a law student at Howard University.

A lot of years have passed since that first meeting. What hasn’t changed is my respect for Bill — for so many decades now, Father Bill — and his commitment to his faith, his community and his country.

I asked him — and he graciously agreed — to write today’s Easter column. He nailed it.

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!” This chant is joyfully acclaimed by Christians all over the world every Easter: It is a song of triumph. It celebrates the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, evil and even death itself.

For Christians, Easter — the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ — is the most important feast on the calendar. Christmas, probably the most popular feast and one that receives much more commercial attention, commemorates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but birth is common to every one of us. On the other hand, we believe that only Jesus has risen; he is the first to rise from the dead and his resurrection is a preview and promise for all of us, as he spoke: “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (John 14: 2-3)

Easter has many memories, traditions and customs over the years: wearing one’s “Easter finest” (including that Easter bonnet) to church, Easter lilies, sunrise services, the traditional Easter brunch, the blessing of Easter foods, Easter baskets filled with candy and other goodies, the Easter bunny, Easter parades and, of course, the ever-popular Easter egg hunt.

Easter can arrive as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. The dating of Easter is complex and goes all the way back to the council of Nicea in 325; this council used the Gregorian calendar and established the following formula: Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox (the first day of spring). However, Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar to determine their Easter date — causing some confusion and controversy over the true date of Easter. This year, Orthodox Easter is May 2.

With such a wide spread of possible dates, Easter Sunday is not always sunny and bright, as it seems it should be since it is a springtime holiday. Many parts of the country have actually had snow fall on Easter — which might happen this year in the United Kingdom. And here in Las Vegas, we could reach near record highs in the 90s.

I think Easter 2021 could be one of the most memorable of our lives. It might only be topped by Easter 2020. By the time we celebrated Easter a year ago, on April 12, Nevada — like much of the nation and world — was, for all practical purposes, shut down. Houses of worship were allowed gatherings of only 10 people, and they had to maintain a distance of six feet apart from one another. What a strange and somewhat sad Easter that was for Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Christian churches in Las Vegas.

But this year, Easter will be different — in a very positive way. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. With vaccinations now at the pace of more than a million a day, with the anticipation of reaching that goal of herd immunity and with the loosening of COVID-19 protocols, Easter will truly be a celebration of new life.

Of course, Easter has always been a celebration of new life, the resurrected life of Jesus, but I feel that we are all ready and excited to celebrate “new life” for ourselves. This “new life” means more people in our churches on Easter Sunday — a significantly higher capacity than a year ago. We pastors are so happy to be able to see real people sitting in our pews. These pews have been empty for too long. Oh true, people in great numbers could and did watch church, synagogue and temple services that were either live-streamed or pre-recorded, but that’s not the same as being there in person. For Catholics, the inability to receive communion has been painful. This year, many of our parishioners will be able to receive the Eucharistic sacrament for the first time in months. They are thrilled to do so.

I’ve read many near-death experiences, and one thing they all have in common, as described in Wikipedia, is “a ‘tunnel experience’ or entering a darkness ... (and) ... a rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light.” Well, Easter 2021 will be just such an experience: a light at the end of the tunnel. Post-COVID is approaching. A new normal is almost here. I feel it in the air.

As a Catholic priest, I have always looked forward to the celebration of Easter. But, this year, I am more excited than ever before. I have missed our congregation so much. I can’t wait to see familiar and smiling faces once again. I stand with the women at the empty tomb and my joy is almost beyond words. All I can say is: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!”