Sunday, March 23, 2008

So Lent's Over: Now what? or Keeping a holy Easter

I didn't exactly spring from bed this morning singing "God be glorified!" like St Nicholas in the Cantata; after the Vigil last night I didn't get quite enough sleep for that. But I am glad to say that my first thought on getting out of bed was "Christ is risen. Alleluia!" My Easter resolution is to do this for all fifty days of the paschal festival.
"Easter Resolution?" I hear you ask, "Who makes Easter Resolutions?" I don't know, but I think I ought to
We make a great fuss - or some of us do - about how to keep a holy Lent, by the traditional disciplines of "self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God" [Anglican Church of Canada, BAS, p. 282]. But now that the forty days (not counting Sundays) of preparation for Easter are over, and the fifty days’ celebration of Easter has begun, we may ask, "What are we supposed to do now?" There are enough resources and more on how to keep a holy Lent, but for the life of me I can’t remember ever seeing a handbook for keeping a holy Easter. Perhaps such a handbook is needed, but I think we’re going to have to wait some time for that. In the meantime, it would be helpful if Christians thought about how to keep a holy Eastertide. Otherwise (to exaggerate just a little) when Lent ends, we'll all heave a sigh of relief and go back to the things we gave up, giving it all no more thought till next year, when it won't be so early. [Although this note is specifically about Anglican practice, we all have something to learn from the experiences of other denominations.]
So here are a few thoughts that I had on the subject on Easter morning 2008.
What is Eastertide?
Easter Day is the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, but the celebration is not compete in one day. Easter Sunday it is the first of fifty days of continuous joy and festival, ending on the day of Pentecost (from the Greek Pentecoste, meaning “fiftieth”). This whole festival celebrates the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and his sending of the Holy Spirit. In an age of tidier minds than ours, these fifty days were separated into Eastertide and Ascensiontide, which began on the fortieth day of Easter. Even if this separation is to your taste, the fifty days are still a continuous festival.
Some interesting details about Easter: The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) forbade kneeling in church throughout the fifty days of Easter. The liturgical colour is white or gold. The most obvious liturgical feature of Eastertide is that we sing and say "Alleluia" (Praise the Lord) more frequently. The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada exempts the Fridays of Eastertide from the rule that Fridays are to be marked by “special acts of discipline and self-denial” (p. 17).
As in Lent, the Sundays of Eastertide are no problem: we sing alleluia and the Liturgy has a joyous air. But that looks after only seven Sundays after Easter and the Day of Pentecost. How can we make the most of the other forty-two days of Easter?
The Daily Office helps somewhat, but we don't realistically expect all individuals and families to use that form of prayer. But it would be good if we remember that, like Lent, Eastertide is also a special time for prayer and thanksgiving.
Out of the devotional practices of Lent, the only one that is not performed in the Easter season is fasting, and we don't make a special effort in self-examination and pentitence at this time, but we don't just drop it either. As for the rest of them, if we made a special effort in Lent it was in order to strengthen our habits of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, bible-study and all the rest. In Eastertide we should continue in these things and not slack off. Perhaps one year your parish might have an Easter study series. Perhaps special devotions (emphasizing joy and celebration) could be devised.*
The most important thing to suggest is a personal and individual devotion. One of the features of Lent in both prayer and self-denial is a focus on things one needs to change in life, and by change we often mean "getting rid of". In Eastertide the focus might well be on the habits and practices that we need to encourage - and not just charitable acts and almsgiving, but good humour and politeness as signs of the joy of the new life. The Easter question might be what embers of love in one's soul need to be blown into fire by the Spirit of God. Again, if in Lent one tried to tackle a tendency to a short temper, one might in Easter change direction and emphasize thankfulness or kindness.
These thoughts on Easter Day address a real need in the Christian life: how shall one make the most of these fifty days of special rejoicing and celebration that we have in the Church year? I may have more to say on this sometime later.
*I have intentionally not searched the web for parishes that do such things already, so that I can be happily surprised if someone brings one to my attention. All I mean is that I've never heard of it happening.

No comments: