Easter is one of the most treasured holidays on the Christian calendar. In commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, Easter celebrates the defeat of death and the hope of salvation. It is a time of reflection, joy and shared fellowship.
The events of Holy Week offer a renewed hope to face the challenges of our world today.
Father Chris Collins ’93, SJ, the vice president for mission at the University of St. Thomas, recently took some time to reflect on Holy Week and the messages that resonate most with him.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What is Easter all about? And why does it hold such importance to Christians?
Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And for Christians that is ultimately the source of our hope for eternal life. For we, too, will be resurrected because of Christ’s resurrection.
It’s all based on that belief – that it’s not just an idea – it’s not just a vague hope, but for the Christian, we believe God actually entered into history and joined himself to the human condition.
Because God joined himself to humanity in Jesus, he died, and God shared that experience, we will share that experience, too.
A year into your journey at St. Thomas as leader of the Office for Mission, how does it feel to celebrate Easter at the university?
I’m very excited to celebrate Easter as a community again because we need hope. All of our hearts need to be renewed. Even coming together yesterday at the employee recognition celebration, just getting together, seeing people ... I can’t get enough of that basic stuff, of rehumanizing, socializing. To be able to bring that all into the context of prayer and worship together – there’s nothing more important I’d say.
We celebrate Easter this year with a little extra hope as the pandemic loosens its grip, but at the same time, other crises have come into view, such as the war in Ukraine. What can Easter teach us in these moments?
To me that’s why this Holy Week especially is important because it gets right into the nitty gritty. It looks like everything is falling apart ... there’s death, there’s evil, there’s loneliness and betrayal. Everything happens to Jesus and it happens to us too. We all go through different aspects of that, whether it’s on a global stage or a personal stage.
It’s also what gets referred to as the paschal path. It’s the life, death, resurrection – all of that together is the paschal mystery. And that’s the path that all of our lives are on at any given time. Sometimes things are going very well, sometimes things fall apart, sometimes evil seems to take over. And then there’s resurrection. That’s why it’s so poignant to really lock in on all of the things that happen in the story of Jesus ... since we’re all going through life, death and resurrection all the time.
Many of us will return to more “normal” Easter worship and gatherings for the first time since the pandemic began – what are your thoughts as we celebrate again with family and friends?
I hope that’s true! I hope lots of people do come back and get a renewed sense of the hope and joy of being together, coming together as a community. It’s no mistake that it’s springtime also, although Minnesota takes a while longer. But you see new life around you – even in nature you’re seeing new life – that’s another sign of the reflection of life, death, resurrection. I think we all need that. I certainly need it, that renewed sense of how this all works. We go through darkness but God has this plan of ultimate life for us, and we celebrate that together as a community.
What are your favorite moments from Easter and the moments leading up to it?
The really standout thing on Holy Thursday is the washing of the feet. That’s a unique thing that happens within that liturgy, when the priest takes off his garments as Jesus does in the Gospel and stoops down and washes the feet of the apostles, and in this case washes the members of the community. It’s a very moving experience to have our feet washed and to do the washing itself. It’s all about the call that Jesus gave at the last supper: to be of service and nobody is above anybody else. That’s a very powerful gesture.
The Easter vigil is also phenomenal on Saturday evening. We can’t start celebrating it until the sun goes down, but it starts with the big Easter fire outside, and we’ll do it outside on the plaza by the chapel. There’s a special blessing and we light the Easter candle ... and everyone gets candles and we walk inside the church that’s all dark. Because again it's commemorating the time that Jesus was in the tomb still, but little by little that light comes into the church, and it’s very beautiful.
Is there anything about the Easter season that strikes you as important for people to take away this spring?
One of the great things of the Easter resurrection and the narratives around Easter, is that it’s usually about very personal encounters that the risen Jesus has with his friends , with Mary Magdalene, with Peter or with Thomas. The people are always in grief whom he goes to meet. They’re discouraged and sad, understandably. And as he meets them, they get their eyes opened, their confidence comes back, their hope comes back. And then they all go back to the community to give witness.
You see people going from discouragement to lifting up others – it’s just a beautiful piece of how these stories unfold. You might be in a case of discouragement for any number of reasons, but I believe the risen Jesus appears through ordinary people, that God uses people like us to be those sources of encouragement for others, because of what happened at Easter.
For more on the Easter Triduum, Father Chris has a video here.