Archive for April 12th, 2009

The 40 days of Easter

N.T. Wright in his book Surprised by Hope, refers to how the Church largely disregards Easter. Christmas is celebrated with a vengeance, but Easter? Nah, Easter gets a day, a morning. Some candy in a basket, maybe a new dress and shoes. And this is as true in so-called “liturgical” churches as it is in straight-down-the-center, Puritan-Reformed congregations. We hear about the Christmas “season” (the “twelve days”) but how much attention is given to the Easter “season” (40 days, from Easter to Ascension, or 50 days if we go to Pentecost). There are numerous Christmas hymns (plenty to fill up the two Sundays of the season) but I’ve about used up all the Easter hymns in our hymnal (the Trinity) after this Sunday. Yet, as Bishop Wright points out, without Easter, everything is lost:

This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins. We shouldn’t allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and parareligious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.

Bishop Wright suggests that we not only need more hymns but more energy given to celebrating the season of Easter and offers that we should at least celebrate it with an eight day festival:

But Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system.

One reason so many feel uncomfortable with the 40 days of Lent is just here: We ignore the 40 days of Easter. Thus, as Wright points out, “if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. . . . The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving.”

To which I says, “Amen and I like it.” And, there’s no time like the present to begin. Today is the first day of the Easter season. Time to celebrate. Rejoice, be glad, break out a little champagne for breakfast, shoot off a cannon (or two), and engage in all manner of jollification over the reality that Christ is risen and has conquered sin, death, and all the powers of hell.

[the quotes come from pp. 255-257 of Surprised by Hope — thanks to Jarrod Richey for pointing me to Wright’s remarks]

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