easter times fifty
Easter is the precipitating moment of the Christian faith. Without Easter Sunday there is no church. Without the Risen Christ there is only death, silence, absence for the disciples who have forsaken and fled. Yet for many Easter comes and goes in the span of a mere twenty-four hours. Canada maintains the oddity of an Easter Monday holiday, though few take notice. Our daughter returned home from high school one day, dumbfounded by her classmates’ ignorance. They wondered aloud why there had been a holiday for Easter on both Friday and Monday. They understood that Good Friday had to do with the crucifixion. But they had no inkling of the rationale for a holiday on Monday as well. Canadian culture is not alone in rushing past Easter. The church’s forty days of Lenten preparations can leave many within the church feeling more at home with the tragic ending of Good Friday than with the incredible news of Easter Sunday.
As we work to recover practices of living within the Christian year we wonder how to mark the season of Easter. Other seasons such as Advent, Christmas and Lent have taken root in our life. Holy Week occupies our energy in retelling the narrative of the Passion. Then Easter Sunday arrives with great fanfare, trumpets, flowers and hymns. Yet every preacher realizes that testifying to the mystery and wonder of the resurrection is an awesome calling. Trying to do so on a single Easter Sunday, amidst all the festivity and with all of the guests can be overwhelming. More than that, our children will need more time than can be afforded by a single festival Sunday to enter the wonder of the impossible possibility of Christ’s resurrection.
This is the gift of the season of Easter. Seven Sundays to engage the power of the Easter witness. Fifty days to live in the season of presence and life that breaks through the powers of absence and death seemed to triumph on the Cross, and that seem to triumph even now. At University Hill we have not fully lived our way into the great fifty days of Easter yet. But we have some glimpses of the way ahead. Guided by the ecumenical lectionary, we read and preach the New Testament’s testimony about the resurrection throughout the seven weeks of Easter. Easter hymns are sung right through until Pentecost. Recently we began a new practice of decorating the sanctuary with fresh Easter flowers throughout the fifty days to help us remember what time it is.
For two decades we have purchased a large Paschal Candle each year, for use during the season of Easter. Following ancient tradition this candle is lit for the first time from the fire at the Easter Vigil on the evening of Holy Saturday. This large (some two to three feet in height) candle is lit on each Sunday as well as at every wedding and funeral during the season of Easter. Then it is removed from the sanctuary. It is a simple tradition. Yet it has not gone unnoticed. Not long ago Anna - a five year old in the congregation - overheard her grandmother speaking of Easter one day. “I remember Easter”, she said, “that is when we light the Jesus candle”. For Anna Easter is a long season, not a single Sunday.
The recovery of Easter as a seven week season in our life is about far more than liturgical traditions and habits. It is about anchoring our faith in the perplexing heart of Christianity – that God has begun a new creation, and that this new creation begins where the old creation ends: in death. We can hardly believe this to be true. Yet it is the gospel truth. Seven weeks of Sundays will not let us forget.
(from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)