The Psalm for Easter Sunday says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Above all days, Easter is a day of joy.
But what is joy? The answer St. Francis gave to this question is famous. St. Francis said to his Brother Leo, “When we come to [our house] St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: 'Who are you?' And we say: 'We are two of your brothers.' And … he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls—then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, … oh, Brother Leo, … perfect joy is there!”*
Whatever we may think of St. Francis’s explanation of perfect joy, Easter reminds us that Francis’s kind of joy is not the end of the story. At Easter, we celebrate the other kind of joy, the kind each of us longs for, when every tear is wiped away, and there is no sorrow anymore—no more suffering from weather or hunger or hurtful human beings. As we sing in the much-loved hymn by Fr. John Foley, S. J. at Easter “the cross and passion past, dark night is over, bright morning comes at last!”** When we ourselves rise to meet our risen Lord, in that bright morning we will hear him say, “Come away, beloved. The winter is past; the rain is gone, and the flowers return to the earth.” (Song of Songs 2:10-12) In the loving union of that encounter, all the heartbrokenness of our lives will be redeemed. That will be perfect joy.
If all we had was the joy St. Francis describes, our courage might fail us in this life. Easter celebrates now the perfect joy waiting for us when we and all creation are reborn with our resurrected Lord into the everlasting love of God. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
* From Franciscan Joy, available online at http://www.nonviolentworm.org/BobsPhotosAndEssays/Parables