The Sunday after Easter is sadly too well known as “Low Sunday,” because there is usually lower-than-normal attendance than other times. It seems that the gradual crescendo of Lent, picking up pace during Holy Week and then culminating in the explosive celebration of Easter Day has sapped our spiritual and physical energies.
One of the significant crafters of the Episcopal 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Boone Porter, commented, “It is a strange irony that many church people try faithfully during Lent to observe 40 days of preparation, yet virtually abandon Eastertide after leaving church on Easter day.”
If Holy Week is one of the best known weeks of the church year, Easter Week is probably one of the least. This has not always been the case. In the early church, the eight days after Easter were called the Easter octave or simply Easter Week.
This was a very important time in the life of the church, especially for those who had been baptized at Easter. It was a time of getting acquainted or reacquainted with the sacraments, but more importantly it was a time for all of the faithful to consider the “mysteries” of God in general and, more specifically, the mystery of the resurrection. Easter is not just a day or a week, but is a season – 50 great days!
This season of Easter has its roots in the Hebrew Feast of Weeks, which began at Passover and ended at Shavuot or Pentecost. Interestingly, the word “Easter” comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, who was associated with renewal, growth and fertility. Although “borrowed” from the pagans, this is an appropriate description for Easter, which in truth is all about the promise of new life – the promise that God, through this single act of love, gives us the same indescribable gift that He gave Jesus – resurrection. It’s no wonder that the early Christians kept Easter as a season of 50 days. They knew that this time God had done something that would take humanity a little time to absorb.
During the weeks of the Easter season the lectionary offers us all of the stories of Jesus’ many post-resurrection appearances to the apostles.
We are once again with Thomas as he puts his fingers into the wounds in Jesus’ side and hands. We will be with the lonely and confused men on the road to Emmaus who were treated to “hearts burning with fire” when Jesus opened the scriptures to them. We will join Jesus for an open-air breakfast of freshly cooked fish on the shores of Galilee. We will hear of a new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We will receive again the Holy Spirit and the peace which passes all understanding. In a little less than 40 days from now we will stand with the disciples, craning our necks as we look upward into an empty cloud and hear the words from the angels, “He’s gone into heaven – it’s up to you now!”
This mystery of the resurrection is a lot to put on our plates, but what a great feast it is! Let me leave you with a little something from St. Paul to gnaw on for the next few weeks. Perhaps it will become your truth: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
The Rev. Joe Bowden is assisting priest at Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.