Permalink for this post / Permalink for series – Easter: More Than Just a Day
Note: This is an improved version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago.
As a child, I liked Easter. Dressing up in new clothes for church, singing joyful songs in worship, going to my grandparents’ house for an Easter egg hunt – I looked forward to all of these traditions each year. But, I must confess, in my mind Easter couldn’t hold a candle to Christmas. After all, the winter holiday meant lights and decorations, favorite Christmas carols, acting out the nativity story, and, most of all, lots of presents under the tree. Christmas, now that was a fantastic holiday. Easter, well, it was a fine celebration, but decidedly inferior. After all, you can’t exactly expect the Easter Bunny to compete with Santa Claus!
As I got older, I remember hearing my pastor talk about the magnitude of Easter, even suggesting that it was more important than Christmas. When I first heard this, it sounded almost like heresy. How could any holiday beat Christmas? Even granting the importance of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Easter seemed to be at a decided disadvantage when compared to Christmas. Both holidays happened on a single day, of course, but Christmas celebrations lasted for weeks. Easter took up a few hours on one Sunday, and that was it, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until I was taking a seminary course in preparation for my ordination that I learned that some people – including many Presbyterians, much to my surprise – considered Easter to be, not a day, but a season of the year, and a seven-week season at that. Easter Sunday, in this perspective, begins a season in the church year that ends with Pentecost Sunday, the day Christians remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the earliest believers in Jesus. I was willing to grant that this was an interesting idea. And, by then, I did agree with my pastor that, theologically speaking, Easter was at least as important as Christmas, if not more (especially if you link Easter and Good Friday). But the notion of Easter as a season seemed theoretical at best. It certainly wasn’t a part of my own Christian experience.
During my first year as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church I was finally introduced to a Christian community that stretched the celebration of Easter beyond just a day. Our worship director at the time, Loren Wiebe, explained to me that he took Eastertide quite seriously. This meant, for example, that we’d sing Easter hymns, not only on Easter Sunday itself, but also during worship services in the following weeks. By this time I was ready to experiment with all of this, though I must confess it felt rather strange to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” a couple of weeks after Easter Sunday. (And “Christ the Lord is Risen Two Weeks Ago” didn’t work either.) Moreover, the word “Eastertide” sounded strange to me, like some remnant of days gone by. Nevertheless, I did my best to be a good sport. Slowly, over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate celebrating Easter for more than just a single Sunday. In fact one of my favorite Christian songs actually uses the word “Eastertide.” The song is “This joyful Eastertide,” arranged by Charles Wood. (To hear an excerpt, click here. To purchase this recording, click here. The CD cover is pictured to the right.)
As I have done in previous years, this year I want to write a bit on how we can give Easter its due. I’ve come to believe that, in many ways, Easter gets short shrift, at least in many Protestant and independent churches. As a result, we miss out on some of the richness and joy of a full Easter celebration. There’s no biblical rule that says you have to celebrate Easter for seven weeks. But I believe that if we extend our celebrations of Easter beyond a single Sunday, the result will be a more vital and jubilant faith.
In the next few posts I want to lay out some ideas for celebrating Easter as a season, not just a day. Some of these will seem obvious to you, though some, I’d expect, will be surprising. My goal, to be sure, is to stretch augment your understanding of the Christian year, much as I’ve tried to do in my series on Advent and Lent. But I’m also hoping that I might enrich your experience of Easter, which, in the end, is really the experience of the resurrected Christ.
Stay tuned . . . .