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Jesus Lives: Singing the Resurrection

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Looking out my window this morning, it’s difficult to remember (let alone believe) that spring has “arrived.” The air is still cold, the skies are overcast, the wind is still bitter. Looking at my life as a Christian, it’s sometimes difficult to remember (let alone believe) that I am still in the heart of the Easter season. As I walk into my parish, I notice that the Easter lilies are starting to droop ever so slightly, and the other decorations, while still beautiful, have become less dramatic—something to which I am accustomed.

In her recent post, Anna Adams spoke eloquently about the incredible duration of the Easter season and provided some wonderful insight on how to keep the Easter fire burning for those in academia who are now enduring the stress of wrapping up another semester. Maintaining this Easter joy is something that proves difficult for everyone, not just those living in the world of a university—I find myself wondering yet again how the bloom can have fallen off the lily so quickly, and how one can celebrate the joy of Easter throughout the entire season.

But the brilliance of the Easter season lies precisely in the fact that it is so lengthy. Just as our Lenten observances are intended to have lifelong ramifications, so too are our Easter celebrations. We are bathed in the radiant light of the Resurrection for fifty whole days so that it might leave an indelible mark on the way in which we view the world. This is the period of mystagogy for the newly-baptized, and a time of thanksgiving and renewal for the entire Church: we spend these fifty days marveling at the miracle of the Risen Lord, learning from Him how we are to continue to manifest His presence in the world through lives of self-giving love, contemplating the Love that conquers even death itself, so that by the time Pentecost arrives, we are ready to go out and proclaim the Good News as the Apostles did.

The time of mystagogy is a time to plumb the depths of mystery; it is a time to learn to see and hear the story of the Resurrection with new eyes and ears that have been purified by Lenten sacrifice and prepared by the celebration of the Triduum. In the early Church, this mystagogical process took place largely through preaching, and today, the weekly homilies can continue to help us understand better the mysteries of Easter. In addition, the music of the Church can provide another source of theological wisdom and mystagogical insight that continues to resound throughout the entirety of the Easter season, drawing our attention again and again to the Resurrection story, opening our ears and our hearts to hear the message anew. The different hymns of the Easter season turn the kaleidoscope of the Story as it were, presenting the brilliant colors in different shapes and patterns, holding up different facets of the mystery for our contemplation. Even those hymns that we hear every Easter resonate within us differently from year to year, for we are different people each time we encounter them, and so they become inexhaustible treasures for continuing to plumb the depths of the mystery of the Christian faith that is (to borrow from Augustine) “ever ancient and ever new.

Since 2008, one such hymn has become a sort of touchstone for my contemplation of the Easter mystery. Year after year, it continues to teach me how to live in the reality of the Resurrection. This Easter hymn, entitled Jesus Lives, presents an incredible catechesis on the mystery of the Resurrection. Moreover, its very title presents a simple, profound statement that can serve as the bedrock for a life of faith, hope, and love. Jesus lives. Jesus lives. And the world is reborn. And I am made new.

Jesus Lives
Text by Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715-59) from Sacred Hymns from the German
Music by Chrysogonus Waddell, OCSO (1930-2008)

Jesus lives: thy terrors now can, O death, no more appall us;
Jesus lives: by this we know, thou, O grave, cannot enthrall us, alleluia.

Jesus lives: henceforth is death but the gate to life immortal.
This shall calm our trembling breath when we pass its gloomy portal, alleluia.

Jesus lives: our hearts know well naught from us his love shall sever;
Life nor death, nor pow’rs of hell tear us from his keeping ever, alleluia.

Jesus lives: to Him the throne over all the world is given.
May we go where He is gone, rest and reign with Him in heaven, alleluia.

The reality of the Resurrection has a profound impact on the way life is to be lived in the Christian faith. The Resurrection is ever before us as the promise of our hope in Christ: that beyond dark night of suffering, beyond the Cross and the grave, lies the dawn of the Resurrection. This song—the song of Resurrection, of new life in Christ—is what we are called to sing not just during the fifty days of the Easter season, but throughout our entire lives. This is the song that sounds like a clarion call from across the waters when we seem to be lost on seas of turmoil and sorrow. It is the song that should be constantly stuck in our heads—the victory anthem that rousts us from bed each morning and the lullaby that sends us off to a peaceful sleep each night.  This is the song of a life lived in Christ; its quiet confidence and unabashed simplicity implant within us the courage necessary to go out to all the world and proclaim its message to all we encounter.

Jesus lives. Alleluia.

Featured Image: Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506); The Resurrection (ca. 1459); courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Carolyn Pirtle

Carolyn Pirtle is the associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and a composer of liturgical music.