September 26, 2017

Another look: Easter is a season, not a day

RLLC 1

Many of us in our Christian traditions learned to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on a single day — Easter Sunday.

Easter is the great Lord’s Day, the climax of Holy Week, the high point of the Christian Year, marked by an explosion of color, wafting fragrance of lilies, majestic sounds of organ and baroque trumpets, bright new clothes, formal dinner with the family. A blissful Sabbath! Our little ones receive baskets of candies and toys, hunt for Easter eggs, strap on patent leather shoes, dress up like little ladies and gentlemen. We take their pictures out in the yard framed by the early blooms of spring. Women wear hats to church, white gloves. Even the men adorn themselves in pastels. This is the one Sunday we sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!” The choir resounds with joyful praise. Everyone smiles. Such a happy day!

And then it’s over.

In the non-liturgical churches I have served as a pastor, the time after Easter was one of the few lulls in the year. For families, it formed the season between spring break and May, which where I live has become one of the busiest months of the year, with spring sports in full swing, summer sports like Little League beginning, end of school and church year programs, graduations, weddings, holidays like Mother’s Day, college students returning home, outdoor projects getting into full swing, and of course, here in Indianapolis we have all “the month of May” – activities leading up to the Indy 500 race. After the Easter event, and before the month of May, we had a period of relative quiet.

As an evangelical (and an American), it seems to me that I was always taught to think in terms of events. Events can be strategized, planned, advertised and marketed, organized, staffed, set up, prayed for, executed, cleaned up after, reviewed and evaluated, and followed up. It is a typically business-like approach. A well-run event can make a big splash, leave a lasting impression, and play a crucial role in forming a group of people into a community.

However, as I have more seriously considered the practice of the liturgical year, I have been challenged to think more in terms of seasons than simply in terms of events. Seasons force us to face the “dailyness” of life rather than simply its special points.

It is like the difference between a wedding and a marriage. Or the birth of a baby and learning to care for an infant.

We love Christmas, but it is in Advent that we learn to long and pray day by day for Christ to come. And it is in Christmastide (the days following Christmas) that we take time to gaze with wonder into the face of the incarnate baby Jesus, to do as Mary did, “treasuring all these things in her heart.”

And so it is with Easter. Easter is a season, not just a day. On the Christian calendar, the period that begins on Easter Sunday is called “The Great Fifty Days,” “Pascha,” or “Eastertide.”

Writing in The Complete Library of Christian Worship V, Marjorie Proctor-Smith says,

Celebrating Easter for fifty days is a Christian practice almost as ancient as the annual observance of Easter. …The term Pentecost was first used by Christians to refer to this seven-week period as a unit: “the Pentecost,” or the fifty days. It was only later that the term was applied to the fiftieth day, at which time then the fifty days was called the Easter season.

The importance of this period for the ancient church is reflected in the language used by early writers wen speaking of it, and the practices which their comments reveal. Tertullian refers to the period, which he called the Pentecost, as a laetissimum spatium, a “most joyous space” in which it is especially fitting that baptisms take place. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, write an annual “Festal Letter” to the church in which he announced the date of Easter, which “extends its beams, with unobscured grace, to all the seven weeks of holy Pentecost.” In every letter Athanasius emphasizes the centrality of the Easter observance for Christians, speaking of the fifty days especially as a time of joy and fulfillment: “But let us now keep the feast, my beloved, not as introducing a day of suffering but of joy in Christ, in whom we are fed every day.” It was, quite simply, a “Great Sunday” which lasted for seven weeks, a week of Sundays, wherein the church celebrated on a large scale the resurrection of Christ. “All of Pentecost,” writes Basil of Caesarea, “reminds us of the resurrection which we await in the other world.”

RLLC 2Seeing Easter as a season rather than a day might help us grasp more fully the meaning and implications of Christ’s resurrection.

  • What a wonderful season in which to study the post-resurrection appearances! The ascension! The promise of the Spirit! The new covenant!
  • To lavishly decorate our sanctuaries and celebrate Christ’s resurrection with exuberance for seven Sundays rather than just one!
  • To have “Emmaus Road” Bible studies that show how all the Scriptures point to Jesus and his finished work.
  • To celebrate the Lord’s Supper more often with a specific focus on Christ’s promise that we will share it new with him in the coming kingdom.
  • To teach sound eschatology that grounds people in the Christian hope and the coming of the new creation.
  • To explore the “Great Commission” the risen Christ gave to us and to practice “going and telling” the Good News of our risen Savior in various ways throughout our communities.
  • To regularly celebrate baptisms and hear testimonies of those who have experienced new life in Christ.
  • To hold special meetings for prayer as the disciples did, asking for God to fill us anew with his Holy Spirit that we might become more fully and joyously engaged in his mission in the world.

Many Christians assume that Easter is commemorated on just one day. It is an event. After it is over, we move on to something else.

But this cannot be. We are Easter people! The first Sunday of Easter is the beginning, not the climax of the season.

As the disciples grew in their understanding and love for the risen Christ over the great fifty days when he arose, appeared to them, ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit upon them, may we too experience Easter throughout the entire season to come!

P.S. Another thing evangelicals miss, which is an important part of the liturgical tradition, is that every Sunday is a “little Easter.” Each Lord’s Day, when the church gathers for worship, the liturgy reenacts the gospel story, ending by meeting with the risen Lord at the Table, where we remember his death, resurrection, and living presence that nourishes his people. In this way, the central events of our faith are commemorated weekly throughout the year, no matter what season it is.

 

First published April 4, 2010

Comments

  1. Way back in the day, you could probably attribute all this rejection of liturgy to anti-Catholicism. But just how prevalent is that anymore, outside of mad-dog independent Baptist fundamentalism? Is a-liturgical worship just a “tradition” for evangelicalism now, “the way we’ve always done it”? Is there a deeper allergy against structured long-term spiritual discipline at work as well?

    • Christiane says:

      see for yourself about whether a ‘rejection’ of tradition can reflect an expression anti-Catholicism:
      http://sbcvoices.com/why-i-encourage-people-not-to-observe-lent/

      • Christiane says:

        Be sure to read the comments which represent diverse opinions.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        What an eccentric article. It reads like the first third of a better article. The assertion that “Lent is not in the Bible, nor anything resembling it” cries out for exposition. Taken on its face, the claim is obviously untrue. Barber could have expanded on the idea, but he didn’t. This leaves the impression that he is either utterly ignorant or simply lying.

        But yeah, the argument that we shouldn’t observe Lent because it might suggest “the harm done by the presumption that we lost something important—that it was a mistake—when we moved to a more biblical ecclesiology, including a more biblical ecclesiological calendar” cuts to the chase. And if we feed the hungry that might suggest that salvation comes from good works: better to let them go hungry. In the end, of course, this is all a justification for this guy to lecture other people about what they should and should not be doing. What makes it remarkable is how he manages to circle around to lecturing people that they should not do stuff which he himself acknowledges are “good Christian pursuits.” Inspirational!

        • Christiane says:

          Hi RICHARD,
          I can’t speak for Bart Barber myself, of course, but from what I know of him, I don’t think he is a liar, no. I also don’t think he knows much about Catholicism. I remember reading his article and leaving some verses from sacred Scripture that are used during the Lenten season on his personal website ‘Praise God Barebones’ and he deleted the references which I thought might encourage some understanding, but that was his choice to do. He identifies as a ‘fundamentalist’ proudly. He is familiar with some of the work of Catholics in Africa where he often goes on mission, and he is very critical of what he has seen.

          I do think he is an honest person, just not very knowledgeable about Catholicism, as is the case with many who are of his denomination (Southern Baptist).

      • Thus why “Biblical” is such a stupid thing. Soon as you push on that, everything falls apart as being not strictly Biblical.

  2. Robert F says:

    Loud birdsong at dawn,
    strong, gusty wind, cold clear sky–
    morning has broken.

  3. Robert F says:

    Many Christians assume that Easter is commemorated on just one day.

    In my experience, this is not just limited to evangelical churches, at least as it pertains to laity. Most people in the pews, though they may hear from the pulpit that Easter is a season, and though they may see the Easter decorations and hear the readings throughout the season, still seem to think of Easter as Easter Sunday.

  4. Never in the year is the distinction between event and season more evident to me as a spiritual refugee than during Advent. Here, we have all the festivities; office parties, caroling, feasting, etc, lading up to the grand climax; Christmas – then its all over.

    Whereas I am struggling with the Advent fast (the hardest of all the four for me to keep), and bam! all the rejoicing is over, whereas in my church we are just ginning up for Theophany.

    Easter is a little easier. we ordinarily celebrate it later that the West. This year we are very late. So, we are left to do our own thing much more for Pascha and Paschatide.

  5. Easter was a joyous occasion as always, but for the first time in my entire life (now numbering 75 years) we didn’t sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” in church on Easter Day. I have no idea why not. I didn’t realize I was such a traditionalist, but I guess I am. It wasn’t the end of the world or anything, but the church we have been attending for the past six years is Methodist and the Wesley brothers must be spinning in their graves. Also I who so recently embraced things liturgical noticed that the cross out front, which didn’t get the purple cloth put on it until the third week of Lent this year, was completely bare – no white cloth to indicate the Resurrection. So I was doubly disappointed. Are we guilty of a little Sloppy Agape? Am I making mountains out of molehills? Majoring in the minors? Have I finally become a curmudgeon? Don’t answer that.

    There are too many I’s in that paragraph for comfort. Better questions to ask are am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Visiting the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned? Loving my neighbor as myself? Helping the downtrodden and the poor get justice? Loving my enemies? These questions make song selection and liturgical niceties look far less important.

    • Peace From The Fringes says:

      Funny you should mention it. I no longer attend church and neither miss it nor desire it. However, on Sunday I found myself puttering around the house humming “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”. Apparently, part of my subconscious remembers happily the tunes and rhythms of my childhood.

    • I love what you wrote….those things listed at the end are far more important to our risen Savior…thank you for the reminder! God bless you! 🙂

  6. Nice mosaic. What church building is that?

  7. Sad to know Easter goes lull in some churches.

    Let’s celebrate Easter looking forward to Pentecost.

    Thanks for this timely post Mike, wish you a joyful Easter season!