By Effie Caldarola | Catholic News Service
At the conclusion of the Mass I attended on Easter while visiting in New Jersey, the pastor repeated what appeared to be his annual Easter joke. Many people applauded when he asked if they wanted to hear it, and many smiled knowingly, already in on the punchline.
So, the Easter Bunny is crossing the street on Easter Sunday, distracted by his day's enormous duties, when a car fails to stop, hits the bunny and kills him.
What? The congregation listened appreciatively while my jaw dropped. I looked around at all the kids in their Easter finery, little plaid suspenders and bow ties, floppy flowered hats.
Did they hear what he just said about the Easter Bunny dying? Apparently either overstimulated or nearly comatose from the morning's chocolate overload, no one under 10 seemed concerned.
But wait. Why am I talking about Easter? Isn't it over and shouldn't we be moving on? Haven't those Easter baskets and that fake green grass been stored away days ago?
Before his joke (and yes, there will be a punchline) the pastor had reminded us in his homily of something important. Lent, he said, lasts 40 days. The Easter season lasts 50, and we should spend it rejoicing.
In the church, the period between Easter and Pentecost is a glorious time. Sometimes it is referred to as a time of "mystagogy" -- a fancy word with roots in the Greek language -- that basically means we Christians are being initiated into mystery.
We've moved from the human sorrow and pain of the Lenten journey into the overpowering mystery of the resurrection. We should be basking in Easter hope.
That word "mystagogy" is most often associated with the entrance of new Christians into the church. At the Easter Vigil -- our premier liturgy of the year -- catechumens are baptized, confirmed and receive their first Eucharist.
During the period of mystagogy, before Pentecost, they continue to attend classes and delve more deeply into the mystery of Christ, the church and the sacramental life of the church as lived through liturgy. We are a liturgical church.
At the parish where I formerly worked, we would use the period of mystagogy to explain to our newest Catholics how they could serve as active Catholics. Those of us who headed ministries would explain the tasks and needs of our work. Service is a wonderful way to encounter Christ, but mystagogy goes far beyond the practicalities of service.
Mystagogy calls all Christians, new and old, into an encounter with the risen Lord. We renewed our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday, rejecting Satan and his empty promises, professing belief in Jesus.
Now, during this happy season, we deepen our relationship with Christ. Like Mary of Magdala, who encountered Jesus in the garden but initially failed to recognize him, we begin to search for the Lord to whom we want to cling. We seek God in the moments of each day and yearn to hear him call our name, as he did Mary's.
When Pentecost arrives, the Spirit comes and the church is empowered. We the church are called to rejoice in the wonderful spiritual benefits provided by the Easter season as we await the Spirit.
And the Easter Bunny? Immediately following his untimely demise, a woman in a car pulls up, grabs a can and sprays the bunny all over. He is immediately revitalized. He comes back to life and begins to bounce dramatically back on his mission.
The can? Hare spray, of course. Energizes dead hare, adds bounce.
Maybe you had to be there?