We began the season of Easter last week, which stretches from Easter Sunday to Pentecost on May 23. We will spend several Sundays celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, reminding us that we are a people of the resurrection. In Christ we receive the promise of our own resurrection, the promise of new life, the promise that not even death can separate us from God. In the receiving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we receive an advocate, a comforter, a guide who propels us to live for God.
This is a season of joy. We are reminded that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us and calls us to join him by dying to ourselves and rising with Christ to new life. Each Sunday becomes a mini Easter where we can celebrate the joy of our salvation. This is a joy and a truth that propelled the early church, powered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the Good News in the face of persecution and death. The Good News was so powerful that they risked their lives to tell others. Their joy was too much to contain. They knew they had a story that would change the world, Where would we be without their witness?
Luke tells us that after Jesus ascended to Heaven the disciples worshiped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and spent much time in the temple blessing God (Luke 24:50-53). Christianity is not meant to be a dull religion where you joylessly follow a bunch of rules. Christianity is about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Out of this relationship we experience joy. Out of this joy we become witnesses as we tell others the Good News and invite others into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
We experience this relationship fully as we die to ourselves and are raised to new life with Christ. We are not only people of the resurrection, but we are also people of the crucifixion. This may not sound really joyful, but it is part of the story. As a gardener prunes a plant to create a more healthy, vibrant plant, so God prunes us to shape us into the people God created us to be.
As we allow God to prune away the sin and selfishness in our lives, new life can grow that bears the fruit of our relationship with God. We become people full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the fruits of the Spirit. And as a tree doesn’t bear fruit for its own benefit, but for the benefit of others, the fruit we bear blesses others.
I encourage you this Easter season to spend some time in prayer and reflection upon the pruning process. Are you allowing God’s Holy Spirit to work within you? Are you dying to self and rising to new life in Christ?
As a start, I invite you to pray this Franciscan prayer, which has been part of my regular prayer routine:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me show love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.