Inhabiting the Christian Year: Easter

This is part 7 of a series of posts exploring the Western Christian year (liturgical calendar). For other posts in the series, click a number: 12345, 6, 8.

So far in this series, we've looked at AdventChristmas, EpiphanyLent and Holy Week. The first three constitute the cycle of light and Lent begins the cycle of life, which continues with Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In this post, we'll look at Easter---the celebration of our Lord's resurrection.

Icon of the Resurrection (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

According to Bobby Gross in Living the Christian YearEaster is both a day (Easter Sunday, sometimes called Resurrection Sunday), and a season (sometimes called Eastertide) lasting 50 days:
Within a century of Jesus' rising, the church had established the extended Easter season. But why fifty days? First, because the enormity of the resurrection invited a lengthy celebration. Second, Easter lasted until Pentecost (Greek for "fiftieth"), the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Third, the period corresponded to the Jewish spring harvest festival, which began with the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the barley harvest) and ended with the Festival of Weeks, or Shavout (the wheat harvest).... Finally, the numbers carried symbolic significance: seven (seven weeks of seven days) signifies fullness, as in the days of creation, and fifty suggests liberation and joy, as in the Year of Jubilee called for every fifty years in Leviticus 25..... Second-century church father Tertullian described Easter as "a most joyous space." (pp. 190-191) 
As Gross notes, Easter has such explosive force that it "cannot be done in a day" (p. 195). He continues:
Let the exhilarating shock of the resurrection itself continue---the great reversal, the death of death, the shattered door, the harrowing of hell, the beautiful metamorphosis, the explosion of life! No metaphor measures up, no superlative suffices.... The spirit of... Eastertide is celebratory, joyful... one long feast! (p. 196)
In keeping with the ancient tradition of the church, The Revised Common Lectionary approaches Easter as a season, providing in 2019 (which is Year C) the readings shown in the chart below. Note that the first reading in most weeks is from Acts rather than the Old Testament. Note also that most of the Gospel readings are from John, rather than Luke as in most of the rest of Year C. These changes focus attention on the major stories related to Jesus' resurrection and post-resurrection appearances, leading up to his ascension, which is celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Eastertide.



Worship on Easter Sunday expands on the great, traditional Easter declaration: "Alleluia, Christ is risen!," to which the congregation heartily replies, "He is risen indeed!" In this way we exult in our Lord's great victory over death---we shout at the hearing of the great, good news! Note the reading for Easter Sunday in Psalm 118:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.” 
The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” 
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. 
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. (Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24)
According to Bobby Gross, what is recorded here in Psalm 118
could very well express the thoughts of the risen Lord, a song of victory and vindication, a jubilant thanksgiving after being rescued from death. It may also give expression to our thoughts as we recall resurrection-type experiences in our own lives. It certainly invites us to marvel that the rejected stone has become the cornerstone and our mourning has been turned to gladness. We rejoice in the greatest of all the days the Lord has made. (p. 201)
As indicated in the table of RCL readings above, the annual worship calendar devotes the seventh Sunday of Easter season to a celebration of the Ascension of our Lord. Though Jesus ascended to heaven on a Thursday (39 days after Easter Sunday) this great gospel event is celebrated on the Sunday that follows (June 2 in 2019). For posts in The Surprising God blog about the Ascension, click here, here, here and here

Eastertide is surely a season of worship and wonder---the One who was dead is now alive and we are alive with and in him! Hallelujah!

Let us conclude this post on Easter with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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Here are three GCI videos with Easter themes:

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