Part 1 of series:
Introduction to Eastertide: The Season of Easter
No, I haven’t got my days mixed up. Yes, I do mean to wish you “Happy Easter!”
You may be done with Easter Sunday services and Easter egg hunts. You may have put away your fancy new Easter dress and your bunny decorations. But Easter isn’t over, at least not for millions of Christians throughout history and throughout the world today.
Allow me to explain.
As a child, I always thought of Easter as a one-day affair. I liked it just fine. 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 didn’t hold a candle to Christmas. After all, the winter holiday meant lights and decorations, beloved Christmas carols, acting out the nativity story, and, most of all, lots of presents under the tree. Easter was fine . . . but Christmas, now there was the ultimate holiday. 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 compared to Christmas. Both holidays happened on a single day, I thought, but Christmas celebrations lasted for weeks. (I was not thinking of the twelve-day Christian season of Christmas, by the way, but all of the festivities that lead up to Christmas day.) Easter took up a few hours on a single Sunday, and that was it, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until I took 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, a seven-week season at that. Easter Sunday, from 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 thinking about Easter as a season was an interesting idea. And, by the time I was in grad school, 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. (“Tide” is an older English word that means “time” or “season.”) 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. 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. (“Christ the Lord is Risen Two Weeks Ago” wouldn’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 what I now consider to be the season of Easter, I want to write about how we might let this be a time of spiritual growth, a season of deeper intimacy with God. I’ve come to believe that, in many ways, Easter gets short shrift in our 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. In fact, there’s no biblical rule that says you have to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on any particular day. For the early Christians, gathering on Sunday was itself a weekly remembrance of the resurrection. But I believe that if we extend our celebrations of Easter to a yearly season, the result can be a more vital and jubilant faith.
In the next few posts, I want to highlight some ideas for celebrating Easter as a season, not just a day. Some of these will seem obvious to you, though some, I expect, will be surprising. My goal, to be sure, is to augment your understanding of the Christian year, much as I’ve tried to do in my blogging for Lent and Holy Week. 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.