As a kid, my family would get up early on Easter to go to church. When I would ask why we were going to mass at this obscene time (7:30 a.m. being the middle of the night), the answer usually centered on practical things like preparing the familial feast for the early afternoon.
A Pharisee from at least adolescence, I quickly discovered another perk of the early mass: it was not packed with ‘Christmas-and-Easter’ Catholics. I’m fluent in the religious pride that can creep (or flood) in on Easter and other big occasions. The church is packed, which it almost never is otherwise—(“I should know,” my interior monologue sneers, “for I am here every week!”). There’s a certain satisfaction in being part of the faithful remnant, and an indignation when the remnant gets outnumbered.
In the runup to Easter, though, I’ve been drawn to a somewhat obscure poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. Appropriately, it’s called “Easter,” and its final stanza always moves me:
Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer, and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls alway
Make each morn an Easter Day.
Part of what strikes me in these verses (and in the whole poem) is its raw joy and energy. Hopkins’ exuberance about the community that gathers to celebrate Christ’s resurrection is unmistakable. “Crowded let His table be!”
For the Pharisee in me, it’s a challenging poem. I say that I want to be part of a “happy throng” and a “crowded table” of a church—a big tent. But how crowded do I want that table? How big a throng do we want to be? Too often I want a church of people that agree with me, that look like me; a church free of petty squabbles or exclusion (except when I’m doing the excluding). It’s a church that is “perfect”—but for me only. Fortunately it doesn’t work that way.
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.
That seems a better template for being church — Easter Day and every day.