Ask any ten kids if they prefer Easter or Christmas, and I can bet Christmas wins every time. That’s how it was for me growing up. I could understand Christmas: birth of a special baby and cheer, sugar and presents. Easter is much harder because it’s harder for kids to relate to Jesus’ torture, death and resurrection. Perhaps the hardest part was Good Friday, and trying to “feel sad” all day when it really seemed like a normal day. I never quite knew what to do with myself. Could you play? Laugh? Have fun? Then on Saturday, could you be happy again? We were kind of getting ready, dyeing eggs and such, so the mood was somewhat lifted, but there was a thought I should save “really happy” for Easter Sunday. And when Easter came, and there was whining over the choice of dress, and grumbling when we had to stand during Mass because we forgot how many extra people show up, and sugar highs and crashes, the “happy” wasn’t always a given, either.
One of my high school students made a passing comment a few weeks ago about having to feel sad on Good Friday which brought me back to my childhood experiences of Holy Week. Looking at it now, I realize one of the problems is clear: Holy Week is not about feelings. We remember and in a very real sense re-live the betrayal, death and triumph of our dear Savior. We shouldn’t need to muster up positive and negative emotions any more than I needed a pre-programmed mood at my kids’ funerals. The grief experts are careful to have you not “bottle up” emotion, but force it? Ridiculous. If Jesus is as precious to us as we proclaim that He is, the emotions will be there. If we don’t know Him, the emotion may be the kind of abstract regret we feel when we read about a school shooting in the paper. Or, to be honest, probably a mix of both. (Only Mary can really claim to love Jesus with all her heart.)
And of course, Jesus isn’t just another righteous leader cut down by the evil bureaucracy of His day. He is the Savior of the World. His Passion is not just some heroic act. It has the power to save us from hell. He does not die for some ideal. He dies in my place. These are things that should cause us to tremble… tremble… tremble. Again, do they? Instead of “sad”, should we try to manufacture some “guilt” or “gratitude”? Those feelings are appropriate, but if they are forced, they are as effective as a playground apology. Instead, the antidote is to let God love us more. To sit at His feet, experience His mercy (especially in the confessional), and just simply put ourselves in His presence. As one of my professors is fond of saying, God can’t just sit there. He is Love, and love is a verb. And Jesus’ death released the Holy Spirit, the One whose job it is to help that Love move our hearts to gratitude and conversion– from within. So as the Triduum approaches, let’s make some extra time to be with the One who loved us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us. And the feelings can fall where they may.