December 17, 2017

Easter Is a Season, Not a Day

By Chaplain Mike.

Many of us in our Christian traditions learned to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on a 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.”

Seeing 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!

Comments

  1. Amen, amen, amen.

    Good words here. I hope that my parish, along with all the Christian Church, celebrates Eastertide. It truly is a wonderful season.

  2. dumb ox says:

    Thanks for pointing this out. This is why I love the church calendar, because weeks rather than days are set aside to prepare for, to contemplate, and to celebrate the key events of the gospel narrative. Our pastor will greet us with “He is Risen!” until Pentecost. There is no way in one day to soak in all of the aspects of the resurrection; I’m glad we have Eastertide. The weeks following Pentecost get a little confusing, because they cover the entire summer and fall until Kingdomtide and the return of Advent.

  3. * To teach Biblically sound eschatology that grounds people in the Christian hope and the coming of the new creation.

    Yes….please…….and HURRY, before the end times craziness sends me over the edge.

    Thoughtful and relevant post: a very strong argument for using a liturgical calendar, which my church, sadly, is in no hurry to do.

  4. We had a molestation homily at our church this morning.

    Actually, it was the exact same homily we got last night at the Holy Saturday service. Guess that was a practice-run before the ‘big’ PR ceremonial for the Easter-and-Christmas Catholics.

    I don’t understand why no priest ever comes out with any kind of Action Language about the scandal, instead of the rote, sorta mealymouthed therapeudic, “I deeply regret the horrors that have been committed” percolations we’re always treated to.

    Is anyone, and I mean ANYONE, reassured in the least by that kind of babble? A priest shouldn’t talk like a bureaucrat. He should talk like he actually believes in something. Like he lives accountable to something.

    I just wish more our priests would preach and lead us instead of officiate at us.

    • Patrick,

      That is bizzare, I never knew they even did that sort of thing. I do admit I was curious if the scandal was ever mentioned publicaly. I hate it for the ones that are faithful. Check out Peggy Noonans’ latest article. She has some good things to say.

      • Actually, the priest mentioned that Noonan article in his remarks! That struck me as odd – why refer to some layperson’s reassuring comments when everybody’s looking at YOU, the Apostle, to do the reassuring?

        We’re more likely to learn good sense about the Catholic faith from pious grandmas or converts than our priests – and that’s not very likely, either.

        • Patrick,

          Funny, in a weird sort of way I guess. Perhaps funny’s not the right word. But I’ve got to say I like Noona. In fact it was her and Pat Buchanan that convinced me that Roman Catholics were not so bad afterall 🙂

        • We’re more likely to learn good sense about the Catholic faith from pious grandmas or converts than our priests

          Not that different this side of the Tiber……not that this takes the sting out of it…..

          Greg R

  5. Mike,

    The only thing worse than celebrating Easter as a day is not celebrating Easter.

    Short example, and i’m posting this anon to protect the parties involved:) But my sis in law came to the small Anglican church we have started up. The whole service was Easter, the message, if I did deliver it myself, was very appropriate.

    We meet early each Sunday so then whole family was able to go to the “ancestral” SBC church. There the pastor, a good guy God love him, preached from Galatians on all sorts of categories of Sin, no mention of the Resurection.

    My sis in law on the way home said she was glad she came to my church b/c she got to hear about Easter.

    My in-laws, who are regulars had it figured out, “he knew he would have a lot of folks who don’t come any other time, so he took advantage of it and laid into them.” Typical of lots of non-liturgical churches I have been too. It actually seems preacher sometimes go out of their way to not mention the seasons. Geez.

    p.s. The Anglican plant I work with was blessed with a donation of baptist hymnals. We are grateful for them, don’t get me wrong, but try to plan a Good Friday service with them. It’s not easy:)

  6. Could it be that this American (and by now generally Western) penchant for focussing on “events” rather than “seasons” is one reason we get things like Rick Warren’s exhortation to instrumentalize Easter Sunday for church growth? As you say, Mike, 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’s a typically business-like approach. — and that\s exactly the approach exemplified by Rick Warren’s advice to pastors.

    But as Evangelicals we are good at instrumentalizing all sorts of things. Because of some recent discussions I have been involved in, it was brought home to me that we also instrumentalize charity, serving the poor — we expect it to prepare the soil for conversions, and if these don’t happen, we give up rather quickly on the charity, too.

    So I am very encouraged by this “calling us back to essentials” which has been the hallmark of this blog, and glad that at least for the time being you are continuing in the same vein as the iMonk (who is in my prayers).

    • that we also instrumentalize charity, serving the poor — we expect it to prepare the soil for conversions, and if these don’t happen, we give up rather quickly on the charity, too

      this is spot on and perhaps we’ll see a post on this in the future: charity has it’s own reward, it’s not a spice or an add on, it’s not the “opening act” for side door evangelism; nice post Wolf P

  7. JoanieD says:

    I DID make it to Mass this Easter Sunday and it was great. The priest totally preached on the resurrection, which I expected and I think everyone there expected. It’s EASTER, Resurrection Day. He said that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, nothing matters. It doesn’t matter what you do.

    (He also said that two people were baptized during the Easter Vigil service and the pool thing that hold the water, maybe 50 to 100 gallons, tipped over before the baptisms and totally emptied! That must have been a surprising moment. He used it to teach the congregation that things happen that you don’t expect….like Jesus’ resurrection!)

  8. The most potent invention of our time has been the watch. Now we measure life in minutes, hours and days instead of seasons.

  9. a midwesterner says:

    Events can be strategized, planned, advertised and marketed, organized, staffed, set up, prayed for, executed, cleaned up after, reviewed and evaluated, and followed up.

    I was so struck by this exact thing yesterday. There was a lovely cantanta with a written message from the woman who planned and directed it in the bulletin…asking everyone to contemplate the words with her. An hour of music may not be for everyone, but it was an honest expression of her heart and the heart of the singers and musicians (small church). It was what they brought to share.

    Then, the pastor gets up at the end to give an invitation, and proceeds to start thanking individuals (director, narrator, etc.) by name for their “great job” and “providing us with a great service.” He said more, but I was immediately struck by the fact that the whole tone of the morning changed — we were being told we had just watched a carefully planned event/show that was now over. And it was all thanks to individuals!! Oh, and the kicker: “i am sure that we have glorified the Lord here this morning.”

  10. scottee says:

    I always wondered why we need Easter (and Christmas for that matter). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate it, but rather, shouldn’t we be celebrating it everyday? Not just one day, or one season. Isn’t that what we’re to be proclaiming everyday of our lives, that Jesus came to earth, died on a cross, and rose from the grave, that whoever might believe in Him would have eternal life? That sounds like Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter all rolled into one. I understand that we as humans are forgetful, and so we need festivals, be it days or seasons, to remind us of obvious things that we tend to forget but should be remembering all the day. But doesn’t celebrating a day or season almost give the excuse that this is “the time to celebrate the resurrection,” as if the rest of the year is for focusing on other things. (To me, only celebrating Jesus birth during Christmas never made sense either, because the birth means nothing without the death and resurrection as well.)

    • JoanieD says:

      I understand what you are saying, scottee, but I do think a time to REALLY focus in on the resurrection is healthy. We need to remember that there really was a particular day in history that a man rose from the dead with a glorified body. That man spoke, walk, ate and spent time with his friends. We can remember this every day, but we also get so busy with the daily-ness of our days that sometimes the amazing-ness of the resurrection can pass us by. We need to remember, like the apostle Thomas, upon seeing Jesus resurrected, “My Lord and my God!”

    • I agree with the theory —but I don’t believe it works out in practice, (so i guess i really don’t agree with our theory 😉 ) —we should celebrate Jesus birth & resurrection everyday, but to try & celebrate every aspect of Jesus’ life in this world everyday – even every Sunday would be to everything sub-par, instead of hopefully focusing on each individual aspect of Jesus life at a time. I would sugguest Jesus’ life is too great for our human brains to take in all at once. (at least it’s too great for my brain all at once. 🙂 Thanks for your comments I can see your living Jesus ressurection every chance you get. thanks peace

  11. While we are on the subject, shouldn’t we call Easter, Passover?

    And, yes, I agree our sin being passed over is something to celebrate with each day, not just one day.

  12. This is part of the reason my husband and I are leaving the evangelical world and going to the Lutheran world.