Christianity is not a sombre faith; it is full of hope, joy and celebration. We, as Christians, celebrate for we have been redeemed by Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. So for major feasts, the Church does not simply reserve one day. We celebrate Christmas for 12 days. And Easter commemorating the greatest and most glorious event of the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated for 50 days, that is, right until Pentecost.
First Sunday of Easter
In the early Church, Easter was the Easter Vigil with its glorious celebrations that lasted all night and, therefore, there were no daytime services. When daytime Easter Sunday services were begun, they were considered to be the first Sunday of Easter.
Note, I say "of" and not "after." Each Sunday until Pentecost is a Sunday of Easter since Easter continues until Pentecost. The Sundays between these two feasts are part of Easter.
We often tend to think that once Easter Sunday is over, that's it.
The Church in the liturgy keeps reminding us that it's not over.
The joyful double Alleluia, sung at the Easter Vigil, continues in the liturgy until Pentecost. Then it will be reduced to a single chant until the penitential season of Lent when it will be omitted altogether. The joyful Gloria too which has been omitted during Lent is sung at the Easter Vigil and continues thereafter. Both of these are excellent prayers of praise at all times, but sometimes we fast from good things, too.
The paschal candle continues to be lit and displayed in a highly visible place in the sanctuary for it reminds us that Christ is risen and present among and within us.
The newly blest holy water is in the fonts at the church doors. As we take the holy water, it ignites in us the memory of the joy and enthusiasm of the new Catholics baptized at the Easter Vigil. We remember the joy and the grace of our own Baptism, perhaps as infants, and we recommit ourselves as adults to Christ.
As we continue to celebrate Easter, instead of listening to the Old Testament prophecies, the Church wisely replaces the Old Testament First Readings at Mass with readings from the Acts of the Apostles on the Sundays and weekdays of Easter. The effect on the disciples of Jesus' Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit is striking. They who had fled during Jesus' trial and death, who kept their doors locked and who didn't believe the women that Jesus had risen are completely changed. No longer fearful, they proclaim "boldly" (as Acts puts it) the risen Jesus even as they are threatened, whipped and arrested.
Share with others
The disciples of Emmaus who, fleeing Jerusalem in defeat, nevertheless, welcomed the stranger who joined them and invited him to stay with them? Imagine what they would have missed had they just gone their own way. Instead, they found Jesus, his teaching and companionship. And we, do we welcome those in need of shelter or food as they did? Do we find Jesus by sharing with and caring for others?
During this holy season, we travel with the disciples, especially Paul, in what is present-day Turkey and Greece. Are we as courageous and zealous for Christ's cause as they were? Or are we afraid to show, by our words and actions, that we are Christians who believe in a loving God who is present to and cares for the world?
Read the frequent summaries Luke gives of the lives of these early Christians. Although he probably depicts an idealized picture, he gives us an idea of what our Church communities could look like. They learned from the disciples what it meant to be followers of Christ, went together daily to the Temple for prayers, shared meals and "broke bread" (celebrated the Eucharist) in their homes. They were of "one mind and one heart" and shared everything so "there was never anyone needy among them."
Can we say there is none needy among us? Not only are there the economically poor, but there are those who are sick and lonely, those who have no one to lend them a hand, those who never encounter a pleasant greeting or a smile, not even in church. We realize that we have still much to accomplish.
When a problem arose, in the early Christian community, as it did when the Greek-speaking widows felt they were being neglected in chapter six, the community was assembled to solve the conflict. Later when differences of opinion on whether non-Jewish converts should have to follow Jewish law and customs such as circumcision threatened to cause division, no individual disciple imposed his own opinion. Instead, they assembled in Jerusalem to discuss the best method to proceed.
Acts gives us a bird's-eye view of our ancestors in the faith and we can learn from them. As we continue to celebrate the 50 days of Easter, there is much food for reflection in Acts. I have tried to give you a few suggestions so that this period becomes a real celebration of what we are as resurrection Christians who glory in Jesus and what he has done for us.